Federal Framework For Cannabis Could Be The Answer, Says Former Senate Majority Leader Sharing His Evolution On Marijuana

Thomas Daschle, (D-SD) who served as the Senate Majority Leader from 2001 to 2003 and in the Senate from 1987-2005 is now a co-chair for the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education and Regulation. In an opinion piece for The Hill, Daschle shared the evolution of his views on cannabis legalization. 

The key point? “I evolved on cannabis – Congress should too,” Daschle wrote. 

When he first stepped into the halls of Congress in 1979, the idea of marijuana legislation was unheard of. Like many Americans, Daschle believed that prohibition was the most effective way to deal with drug use, the one that would promote sobriety and abstinence. 

It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the movement to legalize cannabis at the state level gained any traction — and, even still, virtually no one was embracing cannabis at the federal level. But that was then,” Daschle wrote.

What is the current situation? 

Americans Not Sure About Cannabis Impacts On Society, But They Want It Legal

Per Gallup’s November poll, 68.7% of Americans think cannabis should be legal. The figure is the same as in 2020, which is the highest percentage of support ever revealed in a national Gallup poll.

For more than five decades, Gallup has recorded growing support for cannabis legalization, noting that the most significant increases occurred in the 2000s and 2010s. In 2013, a majority of Americans, for the first time, supported legalization in stark contrast to 1969 when Gallup first began to survey the topic and only 12% of Americans were in favor.​

​A more recent Gallup survey from this July revealed that Americans are actually divided on how they feel cannabis impacts society, with 49% saying its effects are positive and 50% negative. Nonetheless, the majority said they think marijuana is healthier than alcohol and they support its legalization. 

So, how can this be explained? 

Stigma Leftovers 

Well, considering how cannabis has been stigmatized and prohibited for decades, transformation won't happen overnight. It seems that as more and more states open up and embrace weed legalization, more research is being conducted providing more information that ultimately indicates why people are becoming more open to the issue. But, the war on drugs lasted so long, that beliefs around how cannabis impacts society, in general, can’t be changed as quickly as people are able to accept scientific discoveries around the therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana, for example. 

More and more Americans seem to have realized that prohibition usually doesn't work, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the opposite (legalization) would be better. So, it seems, based on these surveys, that Americans are not sure it will work out in the best way for society, but they are willing to try it. Also, considering that they believe alcohol is a much harmful substance and has been legal for a long time, it makes no sense to keep weed banned. 

“I’m not going to deny that it took time for me to understand the rapidly changing views surrounding cannabis and the growing support for its legalization. I’ve had to ask serious questions of industry experts: What are the long-term effects on the brain? How do we prevent youth access? What about driving while high?" Daschle wrote.

“The more I reviewed the data and talked to scientists, policy experts, activists, and business owners; it became clear to me that the cannabis movement is here, and policymakers must get cannabis regulation right.”

Federal Legalization Is Not The Answer, But A National Framework Could Be 

For Daschle, getting marijuana regulation right doesn’t mean federal legalization, although he supports legalization at the state level, while suggesting that “a research-based, equitable, and comprehensive national framework for cannabis reform is needed to standardize approaches to key issues.”

The former senator highlighted that from a public health perspective, this regulatory framework is crucial.

“First and foremost, a federal regulatory system must protect our children,” and local communities must realize how big is their role in this. In addition to strict rules, cannabis tax resources should be put into good use.

“If we do this right, and I believe we can, federal regulation should decrease youth use.”

One thing is certain, Daschle is not alone in his views. Just recently, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), along with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) unveiled a marijuana decriminalization bill, Cannabis Administration And Opportunity Act (CAOA). And this is just one of several filed pieces of legislation whose main topic is the legal status of the cannabis plant. 

Cannabis Views Are Evolving All-Around 

According to another recent poll, conducted by YouGov, Americans are becoming more liberal in their drug policy stance.

Out of 40% of respondents who admitted changing their minds on drug policy, nearly half (48%) said they've adopted a "more liberal" perspective on the issue. Around 26% of those asked touted a "more conservative" viewpoint, while the rest said their opinion has "changed in some other way."

Among the top reasons why people change their minds about political issues are learning about "new facts or information" and acquiring insights about the world as they mature, followed by "events occurring in the world" that have pushed them to rethink their views.

More and more politicians are openly talking about changing their perspectives on the issue. While some are definitely selling their stance for political points, others are just becoming more open to new findings. Recently, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D), who became the frontrunner for governor after Sonia Chang-Díaz ended her campaign in June, shared her change of thoughts. While previously opposing the reform, Healey now claims her fears around it were unnecessary. 

Many people are stubborn and known to cling to their previous stance, even though new evidence shows they were wrong. Admitting you were wrong to believe something is often hard for many, but when you are a public figure such as a politician, it makes it all more difficult for obvious reasons.

“As a Democrat from a rural and conservative state like South Dakota, I understand the hesitation of” some elected officials to engage on this issue, and I’ve walked in their shoes. However, the evidence exists — and more data reveals itself to us daily. We are at a crossroads, and it’s up to Congress to get cannabis reform right,“ Daschle concluded. 

Photo: Benzinga Edit; Sources: Matthew Brodeur via Unsplash and Wikimedia Commons

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Posted In: CannabisNewsEducationMarketsGeneralAmerican cananbisand Regulationcannabis legalizationCAOAChuck SchumerCoalition for Cannabis PolicyCory BookerGallup PollMaura HealeyRon Wydenthe hillThomas DaschleYouGov
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