Legalizing Marijuana Would Be Rare Bipartisan Win for Congress, So What’s the

Congress has a rare opportunity this year to pass a bipartisan piece of legislation that could increase federal tax revenues, promote the creation of small businesses, create jobs and enact criminal justice reform—all with broad public support from Americans across the political spectrum.

But despite the potential to be a slam-dunk with voters in a critical election year, comprehensive proposals to legalize marijuana on the federal level have yet to gain significant traction in Congress‘ current term.

Eighteen states have already legalized the recreational use of marijuana, a number of them through voter-initiated referendums, while many more allow medicinal cannabis, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only three states have no state cannabis program. About 145 million people now live in states that have legalized marijuana, according to the U.S. census.

In a Gallup poll released in November, 68 percent of U.S. adults said they back the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

Recreational marijuana legalization also has vocal supporters on both sides of the aisle in Congress, but conversations with several of the lawmakers leading the effort indicate it’s unclear whether a vote will come in 2022.

“It’s not a high-priority issue for voters, so it doesn’t end up being a high-priority issue for elected officials,” Melissa Michelson, a political science professor at Menlo College in California, told Newsweek

She noted that many voters already can get marijuana legally, and easily, in their states. “Without a push to make it a priority from the public, it seems unlikely, given all the other challenges,” she said.

Lawmakers in both major parties have crafted a number of bills that address more limited issues, like banking regulations, criminal record expungement for people with nonviolent marijuana-related offenses, medical marijuana access and the availability of hemp products. But none have come up for a floor vote.

Advocates for marijuana reform say they aren’t deterred by the fact that Congress, in the first year of Democrats‘ trifecta—control of the House and Senate as well as the White House—didn’t send cannabis legislation to President Joe Biden‘s desk in 2021.

“When you look at the broader picture for the movement, 2021 was a great year, certainly at the state level,” Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told Newsweek. “We’re seeing a growing consensus that something has to be done. You can pretty much read the tea leaves and see where this is ultimately going.”

Recreational marijuana legalization in both New York and Virginia was particularly significant, he said.

While it’s hardly the most pressing issue for lawmakers these days, sources on the Hill who are working on marijuana reform say that largely behind-the-scenes discussions continue to be robust. Until about five years ago, the issue was mostly championed by liberal Democrats, but it’s seen a recent surge in bipartisan support.

Today, there are Republicans who arguably fall more on the progressive side of the issue than Biden does.

Representative David Joyce, an Ohio Republican and…

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