Medical Marijuana Vote in Congress: DC-insider Analysis
Tonight or tomorrow, the US House of Representatives will vote for the first time since 2012 on an amendment that would limit the DEA’s ability to interfere in states with medical marijuana laws. While it’s uncertain whether the amendment will achieve the majority vote (usually 218) it needs to pass, we can be nearly sure the vote will represent the largest total it has ever garnered since a similar amendment was first introduced in 2003.
Our side has fallen far short of this goal in the six times it's been offered over 11 years. In 2003, the amendment garnered only 152 votes. In 2012, that number had grown a mere 11 votes to 163.
So what has changed? Ever heard of the “Tipping Point,” made famous by Malcolm Gladwell’s book of the same title? Since the last vote on this House amendment in May 2012, a lot has changed, and very rapidly. Essentially, we are near the peak of the marijuana tipping point. There is no better indicator for that than the upcoming vote. Given the right mix of circumstances, the amendment could actually pass.
Clearly, Colorado and Washington adopting marijuana legalization laws in November 2012 were galvanizing events. But there have been some unintended consequences for medical marijuana as a result of those moves. When Colorado’s regulatory experiment in adult-use sales of marijuana premiered in January 2013, the media picked up on a story that had nothing to do with recreational use at all. Major news outlets started aggressively covering the many medical marijuana refugees who uprooted their families to move to Colorado due to availability of the only medicine that would work for them. Medicine that could get them arrested in their native states.
The therapeutic potential of marijuana for patients — some of whom were desperately ill children — became a topic of national debate. State legislative bodies around the country moved to act, and act fast.
Consider that as of this writing, Americans in 30 states live under medical marijuana laws. That number will likely increase to 33 within a matter of days as governors in three states are expected to sign new medical marijuana laws in Florida, Iowa, and Minnesota. That means the number of Americans who live in states with medical marijuana laws has doubled to 60% as compared with 29% in 2012 when the last vote occurred.
While a congressperson may not always be inclined to support her state’s medical marijuana law, protecting constituents should be a powerful motivating factor, especially when some are young children living with debilitating epilepsy-related conditions that can be helped by the non-psychoactive Charlotte’s Web cannabis oil. And for the first time, ultra-conservative states such as Alabama, Mississippi, and Utah will appear in the list of states protected by the medical marijuana amendment. This should cause Democrats and Republicans alike to think twice before taking a Reefer Madness approach and instinctively voting no.
Congressional leaders in both parties would be wise to think long and hard about the image they hope to portray to the nation. To be blunt: Medical marijuana is far more popular than Congress or the President and it enjoys broad support. Influential conservative stalwarts such as Grover Norquist have vocally encouraged Republican lawmakers to support states’ abilities to decide their own marijuana policies. This gives cover to all GOP members, but it's particularly appealing to Tea Party-leaning members of Congress.
Perhaps the best indication that times have changed is a case study of one of the amendment’s co-sponsors, Republican Congressman Paul Broun from Georgia. Congressman Broun was locked in a heated GOP primary battle for the U.S. Senate earlier this month when his son was arrested for marijuana possession. Instead of backing down from his convictions and backpedaling — a standard response in the past from politicians when they or their families were busted — Congressman Broun reiterated his support for medical marijuana to a newspaper within days of his son’s bust. While he lost the crowded Senate primary to a formidable opponent, he will still be standing in support of the medical marijuana amendment today as a proud cosponsor.
Support for medical marijuana is growing far faster than many politicians realize. Today may finally mark the marijuana tipping point in Congress. It’s about time. If you haven't added your voice and written your representative yet, this is your last chance.