Pubdate: Tue, 08 Dec 2015
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Times, LLC.
Author: John Hudak


Calling for Legalization Now Will Slow Reform Progress

For marijuana reform advocates, 2014 and 2015 have been remarkable 
years. Two more states and the District of Columbia joined Colorado 
and Washington in legalizing recreational ("adult-use") marijuana. 
Congress passed legislation dealing with issues like Drug Enforcement 
Administration policies and veterans' access to state legal 
marijuana, among others.

And candidates (from both parties) running for high-profile offices - 
governor, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, even president - are talking about 
marijuana policy, and not with War on Drugs rhetoric.

They are talking reform.

In recent months, one such candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, 
has evolved rapidly on marijuana.

In June, he said he didn't care for marijuana personally and alluded 
to language about marijuana as a gateway drug. In the fall, he 
transitioned, saying if he were a voter in a state with a 
legalization ballot initiative he would "probably vote for it." 
Finally, in October, the final stage of Mr. Sanders' marijuana 
metamorphosis began, as he filed S. 2237, the Ending Federal 
Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015. In short, the bill removes 
cannabis from the drug schedules as defined under the Controlled 
Substances Act, effectively legalizing the drug nationwide. This is a 
cause long championed by the marijuana reform community in their 
effort to regulate marijuana like alcohol.

Despite appearing radical on its face, S. 2237 actually supports the 
status quo. How can this be? Answering this question requires a hefty 
dose of reality.

S. 2237 will not pass the Senate. It will not pass the House. It will 
not receive a committee hearing.

It will die where it currently lives - in a stagnant pool of 
legislation with no hope whatsoever of advancing in the legislative process.

Mr. Sanders knows this, and marijuana reform advocates who think S. 
2237 is a powerful opportunity advanced by a champion of the issue 
are kidding themselves. Mr. Sanders' bill is intended to score 
political points, rather than advance serious reform on a complicated 
and important issue.

If - if - it passed, S. 2237 might make for effective public policy. 
It might resolve the current, often conflicting and 
difficult-to-navigate landscape of marijuana policy.

But that would only be true if the bill passed.

It will not.

In many ways, Mr. Sanders' proposal is at odds with the reform 
community's successful strategic approach: think pragmatically and 
make progress.

As the reform community's most talented lobbyists from organizations 
like NORML, Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project and other 
groups have advanced causes at the federal level, they have done so 
carefully and professionally. Ultimate goals are always in mind, but 
realistic expectations are guiding their efforts. They have worked 
with members of Congress such as Dana Rohrabacher, Sam Farr, Earl 
Blumenauer, Jared Polis and others to move legislation in the House. 
They have worked closely with Mr. Sanders' Senate colleagues to craft 
the CARERS Act (S. 683) - a five-part reform that would ease federal 
involvement in medical marijuana policy.

The CARERS Act is bold in its reform and is likely a bit ahead of its 
time for weak-kneed members of Congress to support - despite 
substantial public support for medical marijuana reform.

But it is pragmatic. The bill or parts of the bill will almost 
certainly become law over the next few years.

Mr. Sanders' proposal, however, is policy overreach, geared more to 
pander to a political community of interest than to take seriously 
that community's interests.

When a bill fails to pass, the status quo wins the day. Due to its 
lack of pragmatism, Mr. Sanders' proposal will not mean reform or 
even a broadening of the conversation related to marijuana scheduling policy.

It will mean the status quo - government's continued designation of 
cannabis as a Schedule I substance. That's a policy outcome even 
Chris Christie could get behind.

If Mr. Sanders is serious about reform, he should look to his 
colleagues who have advanced more realistic proposals.

He could throw his support behind the CARERS Act and sign on as a 
cosponsor (he has not). He could join Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon to 
advance S. 1726, the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act (he 
has not). He could propose Senate companion legislation for bills 
such as Rep. Earl Blumenauer's H.R. 667, the Veterans Equal Access 
Act (he has not).

The de-scheduling proposal is not serious and not pragmatic.

Instead, it reeks strongly of the type of political pandering that 
Mr. Sanders rails against.

If he wants to connect with the marijuana reform community and 
advance their interests, his current approach is misguided. He needs 
to bridge the gap between the real and the ideal. If he is unable or, 
worse, unwilling to do that, it is not the signal of a public 
official cloaked in principle; it is the mark of a presidential 
candidate who lacks seriousness.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom