You don't need to explain 4/20 to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is preparing to introduce a bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level today. Whether it's a sincere effort or merely a political stunt to bolster the New York Democrat's popularity in the early stages of a potential 2020 presidential bid, this could be a pivotal hour for weed in America.
"The time has come to decriminalize marijuana," Schumer said in a statement. "My thinking – as well as the general population’s views – on the issue has evolved, and so I believe there’s no better time than the present to get this done. It’s simply the right thing to do."
Late last week, in a spare moment between attacking former FBI Director James Comey and bombing Syria, President Trump reportedly told Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado that he supports his state’s recreational marijuana law.
While many were pleasantly shocked, Capitol Hill lawmakers remained skeptical that the famously fickle Trump will follow through with any lasting policy changes. Nevertheless, Gardner, a Republican believes the president.
"Time will tell, I guess, but the fact is, the president gave me his commitment," Gardner tells Rolling Stone. "It's been confirmed multiple times. I look forward to working on legislation that will pass, and we'll protect those states' rights."
Gardner also points out that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the senator’s conversation from the briefing room podium last week. But this administration has been known to present non-truths from that specific perch, and the president has flipped on issues ranging from DACA to serious gun control measures, a pattern that's not lost on leaders in Congress.
"Encouraging words," Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) tells RS. "But as James Baldwin said, 'I can't believe what you say because I see what you do,' so we'll find out."
It's important to take a step back and remember that Trump's Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has asked Congress to give him the power to go after legal marijuana businesses, and he directed U.S. attorneys to make pot prosecutions a priority again.
"I’m skeptical," Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) tells RS. "After he became president … the policy has seemed to be handed off to the attorney general, who is not respectful. So, I just have a wait-and-see attitude."
Even anti-pot advocates are scratching their heads at the Gardner conversation.
Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is largely viewed as one of marijuana’s biggest opponents in Washington, and GOP leaders seem to defer to his stance on keeping the federal marijuana prohibition in place. The doctor-turned-politician hadn’t heard the talk of the supposed policy change until a reporter informed him, and appeared surprised at the news.
"I think much more research has to be done on marijuana before you expend its legality," Harris says.
While Harris is no fan of marijuana, he’s sponsoring a bill that would remove restrictions on studying the plant so that there’s better science around it. Other supporters of that bill think more studies will show the health benefits of weed, though Harris thinks they’ll reveal its harmful components. In the meantime, he says, there shouldn’t be any efforts at the federal level to protect a state’s recreational marijuana laws.
Following the news that former Speaker John Boehner has joined the board of the cannabis company Acreage Holdings, and with current Speaker Paul Ryan's decision to step down, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) is cautiously optimistic that marijuana attitudes within the GOP are changing. Moreover, he's hoping his fellow Californian, Kevin McCarthy, will take over Ryan's position and lead the way.
"[McCarthy’s] consciousness is not stuck in the 1950s," Rohrabacher tells RS, before taking a swipe at the famously vanilla Ryan. "When you come from Wisconsin and you're out there fishing, you might think you're part of a Norman Rockwell picture rather than part of the present day."
This story has been updated with a formal statement from Sen. Schumer.