Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) on Tuesday restated to Yahoo Finance Live that his Republican counterparts from the other side of the aisle must come to terms with the growing support by their own constituents for marijuana reform laws.
“My Republican colleagues are trying to reconcile some of the views that they’ve long had, which is ‘oh, we don’t think we can support these efforts,’ with the fact that their voters are way out in front of them,” Wyden exclaimed. “Their voters are saying, ‘look, we’re voting for this. Come around, it’s time to change.’”
While the push to legalize marijuana on the federal level has become a top priority for Democrats, who control both houses of Congress, Republicans are stuck in the dilemma of how to weigh their personal opposition to cannabis with the reality that many of their electors are now calling for reforms.
Failed Federal Policies on Drug Enforcement of Cannabis
As federal prohibition of cannabis has remained in place, numerous states ranging from conservative to liberal, have successfully enacted some form of marijuana legalization. This stunning display of bipartisan cooperation for reform was especially evident during last year’s November elections in which typical red states like Mississippi, Montana and South Dakota had voters overwhelmingly approve of cannabis reform ballot initiatives.
The past election cycle also handed control of the Senate over to Democrats by narrow margins. Senator Wyden, along with the new Majority Leader Chuck Shumer and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) have seized this moment to not only energize colleagues in their own party, but those across the aisle on the importance of advancing marijuana legislation. After meeting with reform advocates and stakeholders last week, they released a joint statement indicating their plan to get new legislation passed.
“What we’re trying to do is to end the failed federal policy on cannabis, and it starts with the prohibition,” Wyden stated in the new interview. “We want to get rid of the prohibition, and then we want to have sensible regulatory oversight.”
As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Wyden affirms that efforts on reform will focus on “trying to help these small cannabis businesses with their kind of tax situation”. However, he also wants Congress “to finally recognize the war on drugs has failed and expunge the records of so many people who are hurt by it.”
When asked about what he believes the economic impact of legalization would be, Wyden assessed potential impacts by stating “I always think that when you can legalize something like this, where millions and millions of Americans have already voted that way, that can be a real plus for the economy—certainly it could be a real plus for small businesses, for communities of color, and that’s how we’re looking at it”.
Newly appointed chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Sharrod Brown (D-OH), also stated this week that he could be supportive of advancing legislation that would protect banks that service legal marijuana businesses within states that have already passed marijuana legalization. However, he would like to see a bill passed that also addresses sentencing reform for drug offenses.