The aggressive and punitive “war on drugs” was the bipartisan norm for so long, it’s amazing to see how quickly the policy landscape is changing.
Just in recent years, several states have voted by popular referenda to legalize pot; major newspapers have endorsed legalization; polls have shown a noticeable shift in public attitudes; and the Justice Department has adopted an entirely new posture that seemed unthinkable in the recent past.
Even Capitol Hill is not immune to the changing times. Last year, in an apparent first, the Republican-led House approved a measure curtailing DEA raids on medical marijuana operations in states where it’s legal. Today in the Senate, a bipartisan trio went even further.
Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Republican Sen. Rand Paul, unveiled arguably the most progressive medical marijuana legislation is history on Tuesday.Their new bill – The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act – would end federal prohibition of medical marijuana and also introduce a host of other reforms aiming to curb restrictions on its transport, prescription and availability.
Tom Angell, chairman of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority, told the Washington Post the bill would “effectively end the federal war on medical marijuana.”
When was the last time the Senate considered bipartisan legislation to legalize any use of marijuana? Apparently, never.
It’s an open question as to whether the legislation has a credible chance of passing this Congress, though the odds are probably against it. Congress has trouble completing basic tasks like keeping the lights on; tackling controversial drug legislation is harder to imagine.
But the fact that the legislation exists at all is itself significant. We are, after all, talking about two ambitious, high-profile Democrats from large states partnering with a likely Republican presidential candidate to reclassify medical marijuana under federal law.
For years, even well-intentioned politicians were terrified of a backlash on issues like these. The conventional wisdom dictated that any lawmaker who dared to endorse bills like these could expect to be labeled “soft on crime” and on the wrong side of the “drug war.”
But the winds have changed direction. Even if the Booker/Gillibrand/Paul bill doesn’t advance, these three had few qualms about introducing this bill and the enraged pushback has been practically non-existent.