In the Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday Bernie Sanders came out for marijuana legalization. Hillary Clinton supported medical marijuana. Jim Webb talked proudly about his groundbreaking effort to create the first national commission in 45 years to look at America’s failed crime policies. And it is not just Democrats. A major bipartisan political shift on numerous drug policy issues is underway that has gone largely unnoticed in the press.
The Republican-controlled House passed numerous amendments in the last year letting states set their own marijuana policies. The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed similar amendments. Senate Republicans included marijuana reform in their recent “minibus” spending package, including prohibiting the DEA from undermining state medical marijuana laws, requiring the Veterans Administration to allow veterans to use medical marijuana, and prohibiting the Treasury Department from blocking banks from providing checking accounts to state-legalized marijuana dispensaries.
These are spending limitation amendments, so they expire in a year and are limited in their impact, but it is remarkable that Republican leadership is under such pressure that they had to include them. Our challenge now is to find a way to translate bipartisan support for marijuana reform into lasting legislative change. The Drug Policy Alliance is coordinating a grassroots and lobbying campaign to pass full legislative reform, most notably the CARERS Act, the sweeping medical marijuana bill we worked with Senators Rand Paul, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand to introduce earlier this year.