Will the U.S. Legalize Marijuana in 2022?

Will the U.S. Legalize Marijuana in 2022?

Will the U.S. Legalize Marijuana in 2022?

The last decade has been interesting for the political stage. 

With the emergence of social media has come a wave of online activism and pushes for inclusionary policy. This new-age era of life online and the ability to broadcast any moment at any time has contributed to the largest political polarization in history. 

But, not all is grim. 

These changes have also brought long-overdue social reform. In recent years, we’ve seen major wins for LGBT rights, racial equity, and climate justice. But as the country becomes more progressive, is it time to reconsider how we handle cannabis on a federal level? Will the U.S. legalize marijuana in 2022?

Public Support

Cannabis being included alongside campaign promises and pressing voting questions is nothing new. Since the early 70s, the controversial plant has been a priority issue for many voters. Yet as widely as it’s been discussed, the outlook for federal recreational cannabis remains hazy.

Currently, recreational marijuana has more widespread support than ever. In a recent Gallup poll, 68 percent of Americans surveyed support federal legalization – a doubled increase since 2000. 

As society has grown more accepting of the plant, some states have taken matters into their own hands. As of 2022, 18 states (including D.C.) have fully legal weed, and 47 states have some form of medical marijuana, including hemp and CBD products. 

Despite this seemingly smooth path to legal weed, cannabis remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. And though Americans have voiced their pro-legal stance, the common sentiment among Congress remains skeptical. 

The Obstacle of Government

The fate of federal cannabis lies in the hands of those who run our government. To understand the likelihood of legalization, we have to break down how these systems work. If you ignored your U.S. Government class, don’t worry. Green is here to fill you in: 

Our Congress is divided into two primary bodies, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Together, these 535 elected officials run our legislative branch, which is in charge of making the laws. For any new policy to become law, it must pass through both chambers of Congress. If they both vote to approve a bill, it’s then sent to the President, who can choose whether or not to sign it into law. 

So, with that being said, what’s the stance of our Congress? 

As of 2022, the House is controlled by Democrats, and the Senate is controlled by Republicans.

Party affiliation, while not a be-all-end-all, is still important to note. Traditionally, Democrats are overwhelmingly pro-legalization, with 83% supporting federal recreational cannabis. Only half of surveyed Republicans hold the same belief. 

Even with public polling on this issue, it doesn’t seem to have an effect on a sufficient number of Congress members. Many of our elected officials are split between even decriminalizing cannabis, let alone legalizing it. 

Can the President legalize marijuana? 

So, who has the final say? Can President Joe Biden make weed legal? 

Well… not exactly.

This might come as a surprise since many Presidents and their opponents weigh in on cannabis reform. Even Joe Biden during his 2020 campaign trail touted his pro-legal views. His VP, Kamala Harris, during her own presidential campaign also spent significant time making a case for federally legal marijuana. 

In fact, Harris sponsored a Senate bill to end cannabis prohibition in 2019. This effort was largely abandoned once she joined Biden’s presidential ticket later in 2020. Now in office, the administration seeks to pursue decriminalization and leave recreational use up to the states.

But regardless of stance, could the President unilaterally legalize marijuana under federal law? In short, no. However, he could order executive agencies to consider descheduling it. 

In early November, Congressional researchers shared a report on if the President could legalize marijuana. They found that President Biden cannot directly remove marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act but could push for agencies to consider it. 

Because the President possesses a large degree of indirect influence, he could appoint officials who favor descheduling or use executive orders to direct the DEA or FDA. However, the report also concluded that the President has no power to change state law or compel states to adopt federal policies. 

In theory, a state law that goes against federal law is void, but in practice, it’s more of a gray area. What it really comes down to is enforcement, and cannabis has been ambiguous in that federal agencies have not cracked down on states legalizing it.

Hope for the Future

Last year gave wind to promising bills that could create massive change for federal cannabis reform – though it likely won’t be recreational legalization. 

As of 2022, Congress is waiting to vote on the MORE Act of 2021. First introduced in 2019, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement “MORE” Act aims to decriminalize marijuana and remove it from the list of Schedule 1 drugs. It would also establish a trust fund for individuals who have been affected by the war on drugs and provide expungement of certain cannabis offenses. 

The MORE Act of 2019 passed the House of Representatives in December 2020, making it the first time a chamber of Congress approved a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition. Unfortunately, it was not voted on by the Senate before the books were cleared. 

Every two years, members of the House are up for reelection. Legislation not passed by the end of a Congress is cleared and must be reintroduced. Because of this, the MORE Act was later introduced in 2021 with minor revisions. 

What does the MORE ACT of 2021 mean for legal weed? 

The biggest misconception about the MORE Act is that cannabis will become legal nationwide. Unfortunately, this is not true. Under federal law, cannabis would be descheduled entirely, and nearly all non-violent marijuana convictions would be eligible for expungement. However, state law will not be preempted. In other words, police could arrest someone for carrying cannabis in a state like Texas even after the MORE Act becomes federal law. 

Under the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the federal government cannot “commandeer” states by forcing them to enact laws in the federal interest. In terms of cannabis prohibition, this remains true even after cannabis becomes legal. 

What about states that already have legal cannabis? 

Well, there’s still work to do. 

Currently, there are 18 states with fully legal cannabis – yet even they run into trouble doing business because of our federal laws. Because cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug, institutions providing services to state-legal dispensaries can be subject to criminal prosecution. These rules have forced dispensaries to mainly operate in cash, making them (and their employees) the target of violent crimes and robberies. 

In response, congressmen from Colorado have introduced the Secure and Fair Enforcement (“SAFE”) Banking Act of 2021. This bill seeks to mend the conflicts between federal and state law by prohibiting federal regulators from prosecuting banks that service legal cannabis-related businesses. With this bill, cannabis businesses would be able to operate safer and use more trustworthy financial practices. 

To date, the SAFE Banking Act has passed the House six times, most recently in February 2022 as an amendment to the America COMPETES Act. However, it is undetermined when the Senate will vote on this. 

So, will cannabis become federally legal in 2022?

While it’s not entirely impossible, it’s unlikely that federal legalization will happen in 2022. Despite public support, the voices of those in Congress remain largely skeptical over legal weed. On the bright side, some key players in Congress have been fighting for cannabis reform. Currently, two bills are working their way through the legislative system that would decriminalize cannabis and push us further on the right path for recreational legalization. 

For now, we can continue to show out in masses to polling booths and voice our opinions to elected officials. 

Want to know how you can support the fight for cannabis reform? Check out our How to Be a Cannabis Advocate guide for additional resources. For all other questions, please contact us here. We’d also love for you to follow us on Instagram to stay up to date on the latest Green news, products, and events.