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Support for legalizing weed is at an all-time high, but Congress lags on reforms

Medical Marijuana Shrinking Market
Posted at 10:09 AM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 13:21:09-04

More Americans than ever before say marijuana should be legal. 

A new poll found 9 in 10 Americans say they support legalizing weed for medical or recreational use. In another recent survey nearly 7 in ten say they approve legalizing recreational pot use -- a record high

Advocates say they're seeing the impact of what's been a milestone year for marijuana reform.

"The movement to legalize marijuana across this country has never been in a better position with the momentum we're seeing is just increasing exponentially at this point," said Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws or NORML. 

Voters in five states rejected arguments that legal weed could bring more traffic accidents and public health problems and approved ballot measures legalizing cannabis in some form in the 2020 election.

Since January of this year, three more states have legalized pot for recreational use. That brings the total to 38 states plus the District of Columbia that allow some form of legal marijuana use.

And the legal cannabis industry actually saw growth over the past year, with many states deeming them essential businesses allowed to stay open amid the pandemic. 

But while states have made strides with marijuana reform, Washington has lagged behind with some key Senators concerned about the public health impacts of marijuana reform. 

Experts say the lack of action on Capitol Hill creates a gap between federal and state law that causes confusion and hurts cannabis businesses and consumers. 

"Every consumer that goes to a legal marijuana store in a state or someone who runs that business are all still criminals in the eyes of federal law," Altieri said. 

Advocates have hope that a new Congress with Democratic control in both the House and Senate will pass legislation reforming federal marijuana laws. The House has passed  a bill to allow state legalized cannabis businesses to access the banking system with bipartisan support.

But the issue has yet to gain much traction in the Senate as Congress tries to hammer out a major infrastructure and jobs package. 

Senate Democrats are working on a sweeping bill to end the federal prohibition on marijuana. 

"In the near future we hope to have a draft of a comprehensive reform effort, not only to end the federal prohibition on marijuana but to ensure restorative justice, protect public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) said in opening remarks on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

Still, the idea of legalizing marijuana isn't a top-tier priority for the White House.

"At the federal level he supports decriminalizing marijuana use and automatically expunging any prior criminal records. He also supports legalizing medicinal marijuana," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. 

Advocates are hopeful when push comes to shove, if a bill to legalize marijuana makes it to his desk, President Biden will sign it. 

"I don't think any of us expect him to become our champion to make this happen. And he's also a savvy politician. He's going to see that his party made this a priority and got it to his desk to sign and that it's a big deal and is supported," Altieri said.