What Are The Chances of Federal Marijuana Legalization in 2023?

Throughout 2022, many media outlets ran optimistic articles about the possibility of federal marijuana legalization. As we all know, it didn’t happen. But the media are not to blame, they merely echoed the optimism of Democrats in Washington D.C. about the chances of legalization.

There remain two major opponents to that happening, no matter what any politician or opinion piece writer may say.

  • Most Republicans oppose federal legalization, as do some centrist Democrats
  • President Joe Biden has not endorsed federal marijuana legalization

There’s no sign as of yet that those two things will change in 2023. With Republicans taking over the U.S. House of Representatives, the chances seem even less likely of anything passing both houses of Congress. And Biden, while supporting the expunging of old criminal records related to possession of small amounts of marijuana, has made no indication he plans to support full federal legalization.

So where does that leave cannabis consumers in 2023? Right where they were, which is depending on their state to legalize cannabis. It’s not a bad spot to be in, as more than 155 million people in the U.S. now live where cannabis is legal.

What Are The Chances of Federal Cannabis Decriminalization in 2023?

Most cannabis proponents now focus on the idea of federal cannabis decriminalization. That step, which Biden endorses at the federal level, allows people to have past convictions for offenses involving small amounts of cannabis expunged from their criminal history. It also makes possession of small amounts of cannabis not a crime.

It’s an important issue. People who have a drug charge on their permanent record find it difficult to qualify for certain jobs, financial loans, and other services. A criminal charge from something that is now legal in 21 U.S. states can still hold a person back, no matter how long ago the offense took place.

In October 2022, Biden said he will pardon those with such convictions under federal law. However, his pardon does not decriminalize marijuana going forward. That will take an act of Congress.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, in a recent speech on the Senate floor, said he hopes to pursue decriminalization in 2023. His speech came as Democrats failed to get reform laws allowing banks to work with the cannabis industry passed as part of a spending bill.

States Still Have the Power

With the current “hands off “approach from the federal government when it comes to cannabis, states have the power to enact cannabis legalization. So, the state level looks to be where the action will take place in 2023.

States such as Minnesota and Delaware may pursue recreational marijuana legalization. Minnesota especially seems a possibility, as new governor Tom Waltz supports legalization.

But federal marijuana legalization in 2023 looks like a longshot unless some important people in Washington change their minds. Writing about the issue, Forbes noted that “Federal marijuana reform and legalization is a question of “when” not “if.” But based on the structural dynamics of Congress and the complexities of administrative action, the “when” could be a very long time from now.”

For cannabis consumers who want to further legalization efforts, the state level looks like the place to concentrate for now.

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