US Cannabis Law and Policy Reform

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Guarded Hope for Dope Reform

By Randy Dotinger 

Democrats control Congress, a socialist is in the Senate and the president’s approval ratings are in the tank. So it’s no surprise that advocates of drug reform are looking forward to a new day — sort of.

Consider this: A bill that would allow sick people to use marijuana might actually pass the House. Of course, it’s probably dead on arrival in the Senate, and President Bush would almost certainly stamp it with an override-proof veto.

But “at the very least, we’ll see some hearings on the issue,” predicted Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the pro-reform Drug Policy Alliance.

Hearings? Big whoop. Things are looking up in the wake of Election Day, but anyone who expects a major shift in American drug laws is definitely smoking something illegal.

“For all the worries about ‘San Francisco values’ coming into the Congress, (drug reform) isn’t one that’s going to come to the forefront,” said Patrick Murphy, a drug-policy expert at the University of San Francisco who worked for the first Bush Administration.

Still, proponents of medical marijuana, needle exchange and sentencing reform have learned to be patient. And there’s a chance that the election may end up being a good thing for a bunch of people, from pot smokers to crack dealers.

Here’s a look at what regime change could mean for several types of drug reform.

Medical marijuanaEleven states now allow the use of medical marijuana. (South Dakota narrowly defeated a medical-marijuana initiative last week, the first time such a statewide ballot measure has failed.)

But under federal law, medical marijuana is illegal, creating an eternal conflict between Washington D.C. and the states.

Last year, a bill that would allow the use of medical marijuana failed by a vote of 264 to 161 in the House. With at least 28 new Democrats on board, “there’s a good chance that we can get it out of the House,” Piper said. “The Senate we’re less confident about,” although drug reformers now have a new ally in Vermont’s senator-elect and self-described socialist Bernie Sanders.

The best scenario, according to Piper, is that the bill would pass in a spending bill, and Bush wouldn’t want to veto the whole thing……

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