Cannabis advocates rejoiced upon hearing that Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer would replace Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader on Wednesday. The recent victory by the Democrats in the Georgia runoffs put the party in control of the Hill.
Advocates believe this power grab means the marijuana debate will finally get a fair shot in Congress. After all, McConnell has stood in the way of every pot-related measure to cross his path. But now that Schumer, a supporter of the cannabis cause, runs the show, all cannabis legislation is a sure thing. Right?
In a perfect world, yes, Democratic control in both the U.S. House and Senate, not to mention a Democratic President would mean the party could push its agenda without any trouble from Republicans. But they have such a slim majority (the Senate is actually in a 50-50 split, with Vice President Kamala Harris being the tiebreaker) that they have to work with Republicans to accomplish anything — even marijuana reform. McConnell and Schumer must now come to terms on the inner workings of Senate business.
So far, those negotiations are stagnant.
On Tuesday, the two Senate leaders met briefly to discuss sharing the power, but nothing substantial transpired. Schumer told reporters that the two discussed “a whole lot of issues,” but didn’t strike a deal.
McConnell isn’t bending because he fully understands that there’s still a way for him to control the Senate as the Minority Leader — and that’s through the legislative filibuster. This is a political play that has historically included long-winded speeches and debates to thwart majority support. It requires controversial bills, like anything pertaining to the legalization of marijuana, to garner a supermajority of 60 votes to bring a discussion to a close. It spells trouble for the Dems.
Although Democrats are pushing to eliminate the filibuster, McConnell is lobbying for it to stay put. According to Fix Our Senate, this is because he knows it’s “the best weapon he has” to prevent Democrats from having real power. Keeping this procedural tool means that anything Biden wants to accomplish, including marijuana decriminalization, could be sabotaged. It also means that any marijuana-related legislation approved by the House could be stalled in the Senate and left for dead.
RELATED: Why Does Congress Need Two Years To Federally Legalize Marijuana?
McConnell is pressuring Schumer for an up-front agreement to keep the filibuster in play. While the Kentucky-Republican has done nothing but flex his authority on the Hill during his reign of terror as Majority Leader, he now wants the two parties to unite. “Having an equally divided Senate means that we have to work together to get anything done and the spirit of true bipartisan compromise is possible only when each side realizes they must come to the table together,” he wrote in a recent memo.
RELATED: Will Senator Mitch McConnell Be A Problem For Marijuana In 2021?
Unfortunately, Democrats do not have the votes to nix the filibuster. They would need every member to climb onboard, but not all of them are sold. Some Dems have even vowed to vote against it. If Schumer doesn’t agree to keep the filibuster, McConnell says, it could delay the designation of crucial committees and essentially keep the Senate in political purgatory until the two leaders can work something out.
All things considered, the filibuster will probably remain on the books. And that will inevitably cause marijuana to travel another rough road for the next few years.