The legalization of marijuana is becoming a higher priority issue for Democrats throughout the country, most notably the candidates for the Democratic nomination for president in the 2020 election. High profile candidates who are also senators such as Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders share a common position on this issue, and are working to move it forward through legislation in the Senate.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is taking the lead on this at the federal level with the Marijuana Justice Act which, if passed as is, would make marijuana legal at the federal level and encourage the usage of federal funds to move states to legalize marijuana. Other Democratic senators have co-sponsored the legislation and this marks a noted shift in presidential candidates’ stances on these issues as recently as former Secretary of State and the 2016 presidential election Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, not stating that she supported the federal legalization of marijuana even though she supported state level legalization. The Marijuana Justice Act has a number of supporters but none of the co-sponsors are Republicans.
This is not the first attempt at reforming federal law towards marijuana as Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) worked with Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and a group of other senators from both parties while introducing a bill last year that would have limited the federal prohibition on marijuana from applying to states that have already legalized marijuana on a state level. This legislation was named the STATES Act, and the last action taken was for it to be referred to the committee on the judiciary. A companion bill was introduced in the House by Representative David Joyce (R-GA) and Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) but the House bill was sent to two House committees; the committee on Energy and Commerce, and the House judiciary committee. In December, Gardner wanted to turn the STATES Act into an amendment called the First Step Act, but was prevented from doing so through a procedural maneuver.
The shift in attitudes towards the legalization of marijuana is part of a significant change that has been occurring within the Democratic Party. This shift matches what has been going on throughout other parts of the world as more and more countries are moving to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use including nations like Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Georgia and Spain.
As attitudes towards the decriminalization of marijuana have shifted, so too have attitudes towards the decriminalization of other drugs. Some people including state level lawmakers in some states have pushed for the decriminalization of buprenorphine, an opioid that has been used by some opioid addicts to starve off symptoms of withdrawal. It’s a schedule III controlled substance. In Vermont, it is the subject of H.162, a piece of legislation that if passed, would cause buprenorphine to not be considered a schedule III controlled substance. It was introduced by Representative Selene Colburn, who is a member of Vermont’s House of Representatives.