Hello everyone, we’re going to take a detour from our normally scheduled cannabis-focused articles to talk a little bit of politics. Wait! Don’t run away! It’s just policy!
So as you probably noticed by the name of the title, today we’re talking about the STATES Act, and how elections have consequences.
What is the STATES Act?
You can probably find most of this information on Google or Wikipedia, but essentially the STATES Act is a path towards cannabis legalization in the United States that respects both the federal government and states rights.
STATES is short for “Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States.” And, as the clever acronym suggests, it’s about using the 10th amendment as a path towards legalization. The Bill was introduced in the Senate back in June 2018 by Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). A companion bill was introduced in the House by Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) and David Joyce (R-Ohio).
You can read a quick summary of what the bill does on Senator Warren’s website here.
Essentially, the bill would federally deschedule cannabis in states or territories where voters have opted to legalize cannabis. This would mean that well over half of the states in the US would see federally descheduled cannabis overnight, with many soon to follow.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle have hailed this bill as the best path forward that respects everyone’s rights. Even Donald Trump has said that if the act were to arrive on his desk, he’d probably sign it.
That’s great, so why hasn’t it happened yet?
Glad that you asked, hypothetical human being!
The short answer is politics. You see, the way that the US Congress works has stymied any movement on this bill. The majority party in the House of Representatives elects a “Speaker of the House” from their ranks. The Speaker of the House wields enormous power in Congress, only paralleled by the Vice President or President. In fact, should the president die unexpectedly, the Speaker of the House is second in line to the presidency after the Vice President.
But what makes the Speaker of the House so powerful?
In simplest terms, the Speaker of the House determines what bills can come up for a vote. While this may seem purely functional, it has enormous consequences. If the Speaker of the House doesn’t want to vote on a bill, then nobody gets to vote on the bill without a “Discharge Petition,” which is very difficult to bring forward and is often embarrassing for the majority party.
Because the current Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-Wis), has not brought the STATES Act forward for a vote, it has languished.
So how do we change that?
Glad you asked again, hypothetical human being!
There are several ways to change the current state of the STATES Act, and I’ll arrange them in order of likelihood of success:
1. Speaker of the House changes
Essentially, a new leader can bring up bills that were allowed to languish. Since Paul Ryan (R-Wis) has indicated that he does not plan on seeking re-election this year, this is pretty much guaranteed to happen. However, the question that follows is who will replace him.
That is determined by fellow members of the House of Representatives. In order to determine the speaker, a simple majority (>50%) of representatives must vote in confirmation of a nominee from among their ranks. It is very likely that the nominees will be leadership from the majority party. If Republicans retain the House, it is possible they may bring up the STATES Act for a vote, but it is by no means a guarantee.
2. Change in the majority party of the US House
Functionally, this is practically identical to the Speaker of the House changing. The difference is that typically the Speaker of the House comes from the majority party. If Democrats take the House in this election, they could decide who the next Speaker of the House will be, and it would be very likely that the individual they pick would bring up the STATES Act for a vote.
3. Calling or mailing your representative.
While this is pretty old-school, and no guarantee, people can sway their elected officials opinions. Elected officials are not robots, and will listen to their constituents. Sympathetic stories can go a long way in swaying people’s opinions. Remember, even the staunchest opponents of gay marriage have changed their minds when their relatives came out as gay.
So don’t discount this option! Call your representative, talk to them. They might be willing to listen and push for a vote.
4. Discharge Petition
As I mentioned above, a discharge petition circumvents the Speaker of the House and allows a bill to be brought forward in spite of opposition from the Speaker of the House. While this might sound like a great option, it’s extremely unlikely to work for multiple reasons. Specifically, discharge petitions require a simple majority (>50%) of the House to vote in agreement with the discharge petition. This is unlikely to happen because of the rift this might cause in the majority party.
Additionally, discharge petitions have special rules applied to measures brought forth. These rules essentially make it really difficult to change or amend the bill as it’s brought forward, which can be both a drawback and benefit.
In total, since 1985, discharge petitions have only succeeded on four bills. Just four, out of thousands of bills.
So there you have it. The most likely path to federal legalization in the US, and how elections have consequences. What are your thoughts on the matter? Let us know in the comments or on the community!
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About the Author
Hunter Wilson is a community builder with Growers Network. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 2011 with a Masters in Teaching and in 2007 with a Bachelors in Biology.