For years, marijuana legalization bills have died in Congress without getting a single hearing, let alone a floor vote. But that could change in 2018. A high-ranking Republican senator says that the Senate will “likely” consider legalization this year.
“Proposals to legalize marijuana should not be taken lightly,” North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis wrote in a letter to cannabis advocate Rod Kight. “As you may know, I am a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and this issue will likely be discussed this Congress.”
That’s huge news since getting a hearing with the Judiciary Committee is one of the biggest hoops that any legalization bill must jump through before it can reach a floor vote. However, the move doesn’t necessarily mean that we will see an end to federal prohibition this year.
Senator Tillis’ letter did not specify which of the two bills awaiting action in the Senate will be addressed by the Judiciary Committee. And Tillis’ Communications Director Daniel Keylin has responded to the letter by saying the senator meant that the committee will discuss the issue in general rather than examine a particular bill with the intent of taking a “specific floor action.”
Still, getting federal lawmakers to even discuss legalization is a huge win for the legalization movement. Although 9 states have legalized recreational use and another 21 allow medical marijuana, the federal government still classifies cannabis as a drug that has no medical benefits and is as dangerous as heroin. So getting the feds to seriously debate the merits and risks of legalization is a long-overdue step in the right direction.
And things can pick up momentum quickly once legislators decide to have that discussion. Vermont began seriously discussing marijuana reform for the first time in 2016. After putting together an exploratory committee and debating a few specific bills to allow recreational use, Vermont eventually repealed prohibition last January. That’s only two years after the notion was first brought up as a topic for discussion.
So if the feds follow a similar timeline, we could see an end to federal prohibition around 2020.