No one has sponsored Bernie Sanders' Senate Bill, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015. That's some sobering news for legalization advocates, brought to us by Don Fitch of Marijuana Politics. If passed, the bill would effectively end the federal prohibition of cannabis and allow states to legalize, regulate and tax it like alcohol and tobacco. "If passed" is the key phrase here
But so far Bernie has no backers. And according to the website GovTrak, the bill stands a 1% chance of being enacted.
Yet according to a YouGov poll from December 2015, 52 percent of Americans favor legalization. And there are vocal cannabis reformers in the Senate, including Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul and other supporters of the CARERS Act, which would liberalize medical marijuana laws nationwide.
So why is Bernie's bill languishing?
"Despite appearing radical on its face, S. 2237 actually supports the status quo. How can this be? Answering this question requires a hefty dose of reality. S. 2237 will not pass the Senate. It will not pass the House. It will not receive a committee hearing. It will die where it currently lives — in a stagnant pool of legislation with no hope whatsoever of advancing in the legislative process."
In a followup conversation with Civilized, Hudak argued that Bernie's bill could actually be a setback to the legalization movement: "Positions like this and legislation like this can undermine the efforts of activists who have worked hard to get politicians on side with proposed reforms," he said.
The problem with trying to impose too many reforms too quickly, Hudak explained, is that it can alienate moderate supporters of cannabis reform:
"My position is that ideas like that are risky for two reasons: One, they can reinforce the criticism of social policy reform as a slippery slope. Opponents can make the argument that they can't make piecemeal reform because Sanders' bill [which appears too extreme to many in Congress] is where reform will lead them. Two, it can make other members of congress throw their hands up and distance themselves from marijuana reform because it looks too risky for them."
So is the problem that Sanders is too much of an idealist? Possibly, but Hudak suspects that Sanders' position on cannabis reform may be disingenuous.
"I don't question his passion or commitment to health care reform," Hudak said in reference to Sanders' dogged fight for single-payer healthcare reform. "You cannot add that historical commitment to marijuana. The record doesn't suggest it. It suggests that this is political - that Sanders is reaching out to fire up a community that he considers his base."
He added, "If Bernie Sanders is truly committed to the idea of reform, you think that he would co-sponsor the other legislation," including the CARERS Act as well as the Small Business Tax Equity Act.
In fairness to Sanders, he did sign onto the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act last October. But he will likely need to do more to prove to his sincerity about cannabis reform to colleagues and critics. Sanders was tepid toward the issue as recently as last June, when he expressed some misgivings about legalization. So for longtime activists and advocates, Sanders' sudden conversion to legalization might - like his bill - seem too radical and too sudden to endorse.