When Will Marijuana Be Legal in All 50 States? Change Could Be Coming in 2020

What do Chuck Schumer and John Boehner have in common? They've both "evolved" on the issue of marijuana.

On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced his plans to introduce legislation decriminalizing marijuana, calling the bill "simply the right thing to do" in light of the number of people serving long jail sentences for possessing small amounts of the drug. 

"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."

But while Schumer is the first party leader to ever come out in favor of decriminalization, he's hardly the only leading voice on the issue, especially as members of the GOP warm up to the idea of marijuana reform.

Just this week, former House Speaker John Boehner wrote on Twitter that, whereas he was once staunchly opposed to legalizing the drug, he now believes removing cannabis from the government's list of substances with "no accepted medical use" could help veterans and fix the opioid epidemic. (Of course, this statement also came with an announcement that Boehner was joining Acreage Holding, a company that invests in the cannabis industry.) 

Marijuana reform advocates are happy to see the issue gaining bipartisan momentum, but they say it could be cause for concern for Democrats: If they hope to win not just in 2018 but in 2020 too, they need to come out strong on decriminalization and legalization, especially as their counterparts on the other side of the aisle start matching their platform.   

"Democrats have historically been the ones who've owned this issue," Erik Altieri, the executive director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told Newsweek. "But if they don't take it seriously and get their act together, they risk losing it to Republicans."

Democrats have long been criticized for being too slow to embrace marijuana legalization, an issue that has had widespread support among blue voters for years now. 

A recent Gallup poll found that a majority of Democrats have supported legalizing the drug since around 2009. As of October, 72 percent of Democrats, along with 67 percent of Independents and 51 percent of Republicans said they would support marijuana legalization. These findings make marijuana legalization "one of the least polarizing issues of our time," FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten wrote, adding in parentheses: "and one that some political party might be smart to take advantage of."

It's becoming more unclear which political party that will be. Despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions's ongoing attacks on medical marijuana and marijuana legalization, President Donald Trump has gone to other lengths to prove he supports state rights to legalize the substance. Last week, Trump called Colorado Senator Cory Gardner to reassure him that he wouldn't let his Department of Justice's decision stand in the way of the state's marijuana laws. 

There's still time for Democrats to claim the issue for themselves, and prove themselves more progressive than Republicans putting forth similar stances.

This week saw Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders join two other rumored 2020 contenders, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), to cosponsor a separate bill that would legalize marijuana and withhold federal funding from states that continue to criminalize the drug and target minorities. One strategist argues the move isn't for the sake of proving themselves more radical than their party leadership, or pushing the party further left, but to establish a strong record for themselves on marijuana.

"Are they trying to distinguish themselves from Schumer? No," Rodell Mollineau, a political strategist and founder of Rokk Solutions, a communication strategies firm, told Newsweek. "They’re trying to distinguish themselves from the other 15 hypothetical candidates that will be running in 2020."

Altieri said legal marijuana will likely be a litmus test for Democrats competing in 2020. 

"It would be hard to imagine any serious presidential candidate would be able to oppose legalization marijuana…and silence is no longer acceptable on this issue," Altieri said.

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