Pardons Are Insufficient: It Is Time to Prioritize Marijuana Legalization

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A increasing number of Americans want Congress to prioritize marijuana legalization. Federal legislators, particularly Democrats, would be well to listen to them.

President Biden made a step in the right direction yesterday by announcing pardons for people with federal convictions for simple marijuana possession and called for a reconsideration of how marijuana is classified under federal law, but these initiatives, although commendable, do not go far enough for voters.

Specifically, polling data released this week by Morning Consult/Politico finds that nearly half of registered voters say that it should be either a “top priority” or an “important priority” for Congress to “pass a bill to legalize marijuana.”

Cannabis legalization is especially important to younger voters and Democrats. More over half of those between the ages of 18 and 44 agreed that Congress should prioritize the matter. 54 percent of registered Democrats of any age felt that politicians should prioritize legalization. One-quarter of Democrats believe it should be one of the “top” objectives of Congress.

The poll is far from the first one to identify legalization as a top political priority for respondents. According to survey data, the majority of Americans support a variety of marijuana-specific legislative reforms, including efforts to expunge the records of those with prior cannabis convictions and to allow banks and other financial institutions to provide services to state-licensed marijuana businesses more easily. Sixty percent of those questioned said Congress should take efforts to make “marijuana legal in the United States,” including 72 percent of Democrats.

Another Morning Consult/Politico survey, taken in April, found that the majority of younger people, Democrats, and African Americans feel that “passing a bill to legalize marijuana” should be one of Congress’ top priorities.

However, most elected officials have yet to get this message. Indeed, according to a recent Brookings Institution survey, the majority of candidates running for federal office this fall have refused to openly weigh in on marijuana legalization.

The Brookings study’s authors examined the publicly stated beliefs of over 2,300 candidates competing in U.S. congressional primaries. According to them, the majority of candidates (86 percent) “either made no mention, staked out an unclear position, or explicitly opposed cannabis reform.”

The continued quiet and inactivity of congressional politicians on this problem is a huge political blunder. It’s also a missed opportunity to reach a broad range of voters. This is due to the fact that, in this day and age of hyper-partisan politics, cannabis legalization is one of the few causes that appeals to voters across party lines. According to Quinnipiac University polls, 69 percent of Americans — including 78 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of independents, and 62 percent of Republicans — feel that “the use of marijuana should be made legal.”

Above all, eliminating marijuana prohibition would align federal law with America’s fast changing cultural and legal context. Nineteen states currently legalize and regulate adult-use marijuana, with the majority allowing access for medicinal purposes. This figure is expected to rise after November, when voters in five other states decide on legalizing at the ballot box.

Politicians’ inability to act in such circumstances is not just terrible policy, but also bad politics.

President Biden took the first step yesterday by taking administrative action. Congress must now follow suit.



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