There has been a lot of chatter during President Biden’s first 100 days in office over this thing called a “filibuster” and how it will prevent the Democrats from legalizing marijuana at the national level. However, we’re about to enter a time when cannabis advocates, pot industry executives, and lobbyists will get to see firsthand just how much of a crude destructor this old Senate rule is going to be for the course of federal marijuana reform. Welcome to the next 100 days.
The Democrats have done an excellent job for America so far. They are responsible for passing a huge $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill to keep the nation from sinking into the gutters. At the same time, vaccinations are happening without issue, and businesses are starting to get their footing on the steps back to normal. But this progress was made relatively quickly, considering that it only took a simple majority to pass it through budget reconciliation. They didn’t need any Republican support, which is a good thing because they didn’t have any. And the fight is far from over.
Now is the time when Senate Democrats need to be prepared for war. In the next 100 days, President Biden will want to chip away at his agenda — affordable healthcare, ending gun violence, tackling the opioid crisis, etc. — but not much of it will have the capacity for movement under the filibuster.
This rule dictates that most legislation needs a 60-vote supermajority to pass. The Democrats might control the Senate, but only by a 50-50 margin, with Vice President Kamala Harris being the tiebreaker. Democrats absolutely need Republicans to have their backs.It’s the reason Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is trying to play nice, extending a political olive branch to Republicans.
“I’m trying, in this month and next month, to do two things. No. 1, put some bipartisan things on the floor that show the Republicans but my colleagues as well that we mean we’re serious that we want to do bipartisanship when we can,” Schumer said during a recent interview with The Ezra Klein Show. “But second,” Schumer continued, “we’re also going to put on the floor some of the things that don’t have bipartisan support.”Enter cannabis reform.
Schumer and crew have been talking a lot of smack this year about how they will introduce a comprehensive cannabis reform bill, and how it’s going to pass. In February, Senator Schumer, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, and Senator Cory Booker announced that they were going after federal marijuana prohibition, making it a high priority for the Senate. Since then, cannabis advocates have heard how the bill would be designed somewhere between full-blown legalization and decriminalization; how it would cater to small businesses and it is coming “soon.”
Marijuana is undoubtedly one of those issues that Schumer is talking about when he mentions putting some things on the floor that don’t have bipartisan support. Even though cannabis crosses party lines in Congress, it’s mostly the usual suspects (politicians who have supported it for years). There’s not enough new blood on board to make it a sweeping issue. Not with the filibuster hanging overhead. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is prepared to go scorched earth Senate to seek revenge on Democrats over the election and how they’ve gone about furthering their agenda.
Furthermore, Schumer recently learned that not even his own party was entirely on board with revamping the nation’s pot laws. At least a few have come forward as of late to express a lack of interest. Rest assured, Schumer is counting votes to weigh his chances.
As The Fresh Toast has mentioned countless times, Schumer and his Democratic-controlled Senate face immense challenges in passing any cannabis-related bill in 2021. Not even a modest cannabis banking measure known as the SAFE Banking Act is a sure thing. If the Senate goes for all the marbles — full-blown legalization –—the bill would inevitably make it through committee and be put on the Senate floor for a vote. But it is there that it will die at the hands of the filibuster, no doubt. Senator McConnell is frothing at the mouth to shut down this effort and more.
Schumer has some options this year if he wants to pass a cannabis reform bill. But none of them are going to be easy. One: He can gather the necessary votes to destroy the filibuster and just pass the bill without Republican interference. Two: He could negotiate Republican votes in favor of his pot bill in exchange for more palatable terms on other measures the party plans to push through with budget reconciliation. Three: Try to get cannabis reform approved for budget reconciliation, and hope that it doesn’t get repealed the next time Republicans come to power.
Schumer must also work to get his party on track. Democrats are still somewhat divided on critical issues, from raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour to changing the nation’s pot laws. Schumer might be the new majority leader, but he’s certainly no Mitch McConnell. During his time as Majority Leader, McConnell proved to be a blood-thirsty shark, chock full of the guts and hammer-fisted political power to paint his portrait of America. Schumer now has that big, bad Senate title, but without the respect and clout.
It’s going to take some time before he can work the Senate with savoir faire. Unfortunately, marijuana reform could suffer if he fails to get tough and start playing the game. Let’s hope we see a better fight in Schumer in the next 100 days. If not the filibuster is going to eat him.