A notable majority of the US is supportive of legalizing marijuana, with Democrats having a much higher level of support, and Biden's own platform including legalizing it. Given the overwhelming support for it among Democrats and that the Democrats had full control of the government, I'm kind of surprised they didn't force through a bill legalizing marijuana. It doesn't even seem something Republicans would have fought as hard over given almost half of Republicans want it legalized too, seems they would have bigger fish to fry.

I know I've heard that they're trying to rush something through before they lose the house, but why was it put off so long? Is there a reason this wasn't an easy no-brainer legal change for Democrats when they took control?

  • 22
    They don't control congress as they need 60 votes to get past the filibuster in the senate and they don't have enough votes for that.
    – Joe W
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 22:02
  • 6
    Similar question: What political barriers prevent the legalization of Marihuana on the federal level in the United States?, reflecting on possible actions a decade ago. I assume this is about the 117th Congress.
    – Rick Smith
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 22:26
  • 1
    pew research poll. pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/11/22/… Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 1:36
  • 1
    @paulj, whatever the polls say the majority of constituents want. That's what a democracy is about, following the want/desires/demands of the majority of citizens to improve the lives of the majority of citizens. It doesn't always work out that way, but no form of government is perfect. And democracy is a whole heck of a lot better than anarchy, warlords, dictators, or 99.999% of other forms of government humans have tried. And I wish I knew what the 0.001% was that's better. Also, meth and Oxycotin are far worse than pot to the point where they don't even compare. Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 20:27
  • 3
    @computercarguy It's worth keeping in mind that not every democracy is equal and what the US calls a democracy isn't the only way for a democracy to work (and whether that should be called a democracy at all might not even be a given). In most democracies, the party / person who gets the most votes gets elected. The legality of lobbying isn't a given. In some places, the general public has a much more direct say on decisions than in the US. The idea of a filibuster certainly isn't a given. A 2-party system isn't a given. Not every democracy is chained to a few-hundred-year-old document. Etc.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 9:20

3 Answers 3


It would have required a filibuster proof majority in the U.S. Senate (i.e. 60 votes) in addition to a House majority since it was not a fiscal bill or a Presidential nomination to ratify. They also might not have gotten every single Democratic vote in the Senate. So, they didn't have the votes to pass it.

Even Republicans who wouldn't really seriously have opposed the bill didn't want to give Biden any legislative accomplishments before the election, which is why the Respect for Marriage Act only passed after the election.

Also, while Biden eventually came around to making some bold moves on marijuana with his pardon power and prosecutorial discretion, he is himself a one time stalwart of the drug war and probably doesn't see it as a personal priority upon which he wants to spend scarce political capital.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 20:01

I am going to go with Ohwilleke's answer and elaborate a bit on the "political capital" part of it.

  • Few people are going to consider marijuana legalization a hot button "vote for" issue. Even regular recreational users are going to be considering a number of other issues when deciding whom to vote for/against. Marijuana is going to be one of a number of factors in deciding votes.

  • On the other hand, you will likely find a small minority of voters for whom legalization is a hot button "vote against" issue and would cause people to vote against their usual party: "OMG, they're the druggy party!"

So as a representative for states where there isn't broad support, there is little benefit to sticking your neck out. Yes, overall the population may think legalization would be a good thing. That's where referendums can be helpful - they don't require as much ownership by politicians in general and they are designed for single-issue voting. They compartmentalize.

But to sponsor change at the federal level, when Biden's own background is more on the anti-MJ than pro side? Probably not worth risking votes in battleground states.

Take a look at a map showing recreational vs medical-only vs never states. Some of the medical-only are going to be those battleground states (most of the nevers are firmly Republican so matter less).

  • 4
    This is especially true when one Party promotes the incorrect idea that the Biden administration is promoting drug use when it's really just trying to rehabilitate drug users, instead of throwing them directly in prison for their addiction. factcheck.org/2022/02/… Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 23:12

It's also an issue the majority party is such because they gained favor in constituencies that are prone to political swing and that it might not be in the interest of members of the majority party to vote with their party because their future in this job is contingent on a constituency that may not be reliable for either party and will go back to the opposition's party if you vote in a way that is not popular with the constituents in a majority. In addition, the rules of both houses often require more than simple majorities for non-budgetary laws.

For these reasons, it is easier to say "No" on a bill than it is to say "Yes", because the yes will require at least 51% (218 in the House, 51 in the Senate) to aggree to every single provision in the law, while a "No" requires 51% or more to have a problem with the law (consider that the minority will oppose because it goes to far, but the majority can contain a moderate who knows their constituency will also agree the law goes to far, but can contain a hardliner who believes the bill doesn't go far enough!). To give a great example, Abraham Lincoln's legislative agenda was equally frustrated by the Radical Republicans who wanted Lincoln to take a tougher stance on abolishing slavery as much as opposition from Democrats who counted Lincoln as a Radicle Republican because he was a Republican (And keep in mind, there were still states in the Union that permitted slavery at the time.).

Lincoln's successor, Andrew Jackson, was considered so soft on handling the reconstruction era south, that the Radical Republicans nearly voted to convict him on Impeachment (the deciding vote sparing Jackson was cast by a Democrat).

The U.S. political parties exercise very little ability to actually enforce their members in office to vote party line on an issue, and sometimes a bill never makes it to committee before it's clear that the votes simply are not there. And given how the balance of power can shift every two years, it's not worth it even if the party that proposed it is in control of the legislature.

To top it off, the some bills might not make it out because while there are enough votes to pass the measure, there are not enough votes to override the President's veto.

  • I am confused on how it is easier to say no because yes requires 218 in the house and 50 + vp in the senate when democrats have the numbers to pass a bill in both chambers. There are more then enough democrats in office right now for a bill to pass both chambers of the house without any issue.
    – Joe W
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 18:14
  • 1
    @JoeW So while they have control of the houses, that control does not mean a unified vision on all things as not all seats are "safe" and the first job of any legislator is not to vote for what gets them re-elected. If an elected official is worried current legislation will not help their chances on re-election in their constituency, they will vote against it, will of the party be damned. And while it's more likely the opposing party will vote against the issue, I do not have to agree with their specific reason to vote no+
    – hszmv
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 18:27
  • @JoeW If the minority party is opposed to a bill because it goes too far for them to support, that doesn't mean I can't oppose the bill because it doesn't go far enough! However, to pass the bill, I need at least a simple majority of my house to agree to the exact language of the bill. If one person says no because of one provision that remains that, if removed would have gotten us the yes, it's still a NO.
    – hszmv
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 18:30
  • 1
    Democrats are the majority party in both chambers right now which is why the question is being asked. Your answer seems to be suggesting that they are the minority party and it is including a lot of things that are irrelevant to the current situation.
    – Joe W
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 18:32
  • 1
    @JoeW No my question assumes that not every member of a majority block in a legislature agrees with all aspects of a political agenda and while the Democrats may be in a simple majority, certain votes require more than a simple majority to pass, which the Democrats do not possess. For example, they need 60 votes to block a filibuster in the senate, which they at present do not posse, and they don't have the numbers among their own membership to even change that rule.
    – hszmv
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 18:42

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .