The long, hard fight by marijuana advocates to make some headway toward legalizing, or at least decriminalizing, pot at the federal level is experiencing a glimmer of hope this year in the U.S. Congress in the form of the HR 499 bill, which is gaining supporters by the week.
The proposed legislation, officially known as the Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013, proposes a range of changes to federal law regarding marijuana, including directing the federal government to decriminalize weed and remove it from its list of controlled substances, and instead leave it to the states to regulate it in a manner similar to the way it oversees the tobacco and liquor markets.
The bill -- which was introduced Feb. 5 by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat -- has remained in the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations since Feb. 28, but it continues to gain support in Congress. Its 12th and 13th co-sponsors signed on to back the legislation on March 18, and even one Republican representative, Dana Rohrbacher of California, is currently co-sponsoring the bill.
Legalization advocates are focusing a lot of attention and energy on the bill, propping it up as the best hope such a piece of legislation has had in some time. Meanwhile, NORML and other groups are encouraging their members and other, unaffiliated friends of pot to take action in hopes of convincing their elected representatives that a large percentage of the American public supports the proposed policy.
It appears that the timing may be good for such a full-bore push, as a poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center shows that public opinion is moving quickly in the direction of legalizing marijuana, and that in fact 52 percent of people asked in the survey said they support legalization, versus 45 percent who oppose it. Last year's Pew study found a markedly lower level of support, with 50 percent of people opposing legalization and just 45 percent supporting it.
Despite all the momentum on the side of the pro-marijuana groups, there has not been much movement regarding HR 499 over the past few weeks, so it's worth taking a moment to look into whether this bill is just another long shot unlikely to make it into law or if it really has a chance of passing and being signed into law by President Barack Obama.
First, though the legislation has slowly but steadily gained backers in Congress since its introduction two months ago, 13 co-sponsors is still a miniscule number, representing less than 3 percent of the House's 435 members. Legalizing marijuana is still a dicey issue in many congressional districts around the country, and large swaths of key voting blocks, such as senior citizens, remain opposed to such a move, meaning that choosing to sign one's name to a bill while it still has so few backers in Congress likely carries potential negative impacts for many representatives, and little potential benefit if the bill doesn't pass.
Also, the Congress-tracking website GovTrack.us rates the likelihood of various bills advancing after they have been introduced, and the site's current "Prognosis" for the "Ending Federal Prohibition Act of 2013" is that it only has a 2 percent chance of getting out of committee, and just a 1 percent chance of being enacted. Those are some slim chances.
However, public opinion has the ability to sway legislators, and has led to many controversial bills being passed over the years, and there is a lot of effort being put into making sure that members of the House subcommittee where HR 499 is currently stuck are aware of the support it has across America.
NORML and other groups that believe the bill has a chance of becoming law are making it easy as possible for people to express their support, providing information about how to do just that.
"Congress needs to hear from you, please take a minute and click here to quickly and easily write your Representative and urge him or her to support the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013," NORML wrote on its site last month.
Reddit's "Trees" subreddit, which focuses on marijuana issues, has been very active in recent weeks as pro-legalization folks work to get people engaged in the issue.
"When contacting your representatives you must keep in mind that the representatives of YOUR district are TOP PRIORITY," puffpuffpuffpuffpass wrote in the guide. "Contact them in every way possible and make sure everyone you know that cares about legalizing trees is contacting them too!"
But in the end, there has been no movement on the bill since it got to the subcommittee, where it has languished for more than a month, so hope may be dying in some circles.
It's impossible to predict what will happen with HR 499 in the end, but the light at the end of the tunnel is growing closer for those who want to see marijuana legalized.