Democrats will need all the inner-party support they can get this year if they expect to pass the comprehensive marijuana reform bill that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised. But it has become painfully evident that the mission to legalize the leaf nationwide could be foiled one way or another.
There is, of course, the continued wrath of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his willingness to lean on the filibuster to prevent any Democratic legislation from getting through. He recently said he had one goal: stopping the Biden Administration dead in its tracks. No surprise there.
But, well, there is Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. This guy is being called the “new Mitch McConnell” by his own party, as he seems fully dedicated to hindering progress and helping to crush Democratic dreams.
“Joe Manchin has become the new Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell during Obama’s presidency said he would do everything in his power to stop (then-President Barack Obama),” said New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman in an interview with CNN’s John Berman. “He’s also repeated that now during the Biden presidency by saying he would do everything in his power to stop President Biden, and now Joe Manchin is doing everything in his power to stop democracy and to stop our work for the people, the work that the people sent us here to do. Manchin is not pushing us closer to bipartisanship. He is doing the work of the Republican Party by being an obstructionist.”
What Bowman is referring to is Manchin’s decision to oppose a heavily supported Democratic legislation to protect voting rights. In a recent op-ed, Manchin confirmed that he would not vote for the For the People Act, while also reiterating his position, once again, for not eliminating or even weakening the filibuster. While this news isn’t necessarily cannabis-related, Manchin’s position against his own party could end up having dire consequences for the future of federal cannabis reform. Why? As we mentioned before, Democrats need every vote they can get to accomplish their objective — to oppose the filibuster, to pass a cannabis reform bill, to do anything at all.
Senator Manchin is likely to rail against Schumer’s soon-to-be-introduced cannabis bill. Manchin still believes pot is a gateway drug, which has earned him a D-minus with the national cannabis advocacy group NORML. “I go to the treatment centers. I talk to the addicts. I always ask, ‘How did you get started?’ Most told me they started out with recreational marijuana,” he said in a 2017 article for STAT. “Legalizing recreational marijuana is something I have not been able to accept or support.”
But we don’t know for sure where Manchin stands on cannabis reform in 2020. Not even his own party is certain about the scope of his politics. “If you can figure out what Joe Manchin is about, let me know because I can’t,” one Democratic senator recently told the Hill on the request of anonymity.
However, we do know that Senator Manchin will not vote to end the filibuster. This means Senate Democrats would have to secure 60-votes to get Schumer’s cannabis bill approved. Right now, it doesn’t appear the party has that kind of support from across the aisle. “We’ve got to pick up another ten votes,” Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, whose name will appear alongside Schumer’s in the upcoming pot bill, said earlier this year at a ACLU event. “Now, the good news is, is that there are Republican bright red states that have legalized marijuana. And that should give us some advantage in trying to cobble together the kind of majority that we need.”
Sadly, Booker’s optimism for pot reform seems a little naive. The inability to secure the necessary votes may be why we haven’t yet seen a cannabis reform measure introduced in the Senate. It’s been five months since Schumer and Booker announced the coming of a cannabis measure. They almost certainly see the challenges ahead, some of which are being created by their own party.
How will they overcome them? Do they even stand a chance? A betting man wouldn’t put his money on the Democrats changing the cannabis laws this year — not a prayer. He would, however, wager the farm on the hybrid policy destruction power of McConnell and Manchin.