As the Senate reportedly inches closer to a committee vote on SAFE Banking, I can’t help but think how great it would be if the two party system fucked right the hell off into a bottomless hole. That might be harsh. Let me try that again:
The two-party system is an oppressive form of government, masquerading as a more open system than it actually is—and the appalling progress on cannabis is just one of numerous recent and historical examples of how bullshit it is. Almost made it the whole way without cursing. That’ll have to do.
Many cannabis bills have been introduced or are currently up for Congressional consideration. SAFE Banking represents one of the most discussed. In terms of U.S. bill progress, the movement has been rather substantial since its initial introduction in 2013, then known as Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act. But if we’re waiting this long for common sense banking bills that may or may not finally include social justice parameters, how long will it take to pass more sweeping federal reforms?
More importantly, how long should we rely on the Left or the Right to eventually pass legislation on issues Americans seem to overwhelmingly agree on?
For too long, Americans have demanded change only to have lawmakers turn the other way. Democrats and Republicans have dominated the system for roughly 140 years and have their fair share of support. But when pragmatically looking at the people’s will and the actions of the two parties over that time, it becomes rather clear that more options would satisfy most Americans.
You Can’t Rush Legislation, But You Can Fast Track It
Lawmaking takes time. Some even argue that’s how the American government was intended to operate. But more often than not, it feels like a system full of obstruction and gridlock rather than conscious lawmaking.
Slow moving legislation happens by design, even among the few subjects that unite Americans across party lines. In recent years, topics like substandard infrastructure and public safety have inched along when much of the public has called for a rapid response.
Weed is another clear example. Until federal reform passes, cannabis remains a Schedule I narcotic, meaning people will continue to be policed and subjected to the penal system. And for businesses, they can’t bank like other legal industries despite generating billions of dollars in sales.
The lack of substantial progress on pot comes despite years of growing support across the country. In 2022, roughly 88% of respondents supported legalization in some form—with 59% in favor of both recreational and medical.
The overwhelmingly positive numbers result from decades of largely upward momentum in America. Gallup reports that after starting at just a 12% approval rating in 1969, cannabis legalization had 68% of respondents supporting the measure by 2021. While conservatives have often lagged in support, their numbers have grown closer to liberals and independents more recently.
The across-the-aisle support for legalization resembles other issues that have seen little progress in recent years. Partisan lines have made the Trump and Biden infrastructure plans less universally popular than cannabis reform. Still, the underlying takeaway is that people want upgrades to their roads, water systems, pollution management, etc. The same goes for weed.
Much like how SAFE Banking intends to provide relief to businesses, and possibly those with cannabis records, President Biden’s bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill could relieve national dissatisfaction with legislators if it were to pass. Both issues are big ifseven as their likely passages are touted by lawmakers and certain media.
Then there are guns. As controversial as a topic as gun control can be, safety isn’t. In 2022, after years of countless gun violence, Congress passed and President Biden signed the first reform bill in three decades. Polls showed support for the measure, though many expected it to do little to curtail gun violence. Similar polls conducted by Fox News and co-report from the University of Houston and Texas Southern University reveal most voters support gun limits and restrictions in some fashion.
Whether it’s infrastructure, guns, cannabis or even healthcare, Congress tends to lag on issues that Americans largely agree upon. Rather than taking action on issues that unite the country, bills languish for years, often dying well before then.
SAFE Banking is incrementally moving along, and signs indicate that Senate Majority Leader Schumer is supporting some justice reform measures this time. But, if you stop and think about it, isn’t this slow moving action a slap in the face rather than a moment to celebrate progress made?
We live in a nation where lawmakers across the aisle have pushed for fast track legislation on critical issues and many that are much more polarizing than the plant. Recent examples have included:
The 2022 gun bill was another example of fast track legislation. However, with Dems still split on infrastructure and many in the GOP resistant to weed reform, neither issue is likely to see legislation fast tracked any time soon.
Warnings and Changing Times
These modern concerns highlight one aspect as to why the two party system needs to fall. But why listen to some dude who smokes weed and gets limited engagement on social media? I’m certainly no expert.
Instead, I’ll defer to others who may be more informed on the subject. George Washington, perhaps?
As he was departing his role as America’s first President, Washington warned the populace about political parties. Not just the two party system, but parties in any form. Washington worried that the partisan fighting and the cunning ambitions of what he called “unprincipled men” would lead to the destruction of the government.
But, Washington’s warning went unheeded—rightfully so to some degree. While parties today evoke a range of public sentiments, their rise in the early to mid-1800s served as the first chance most common people were given to be part of the government. Over time, however, complaints about the two parties have grown.
By 1950, concerns focused on a lack of fair representation in politics. Proposed solutions included the full-scale dissolution of the Democrat and Republican parties. This theory suggests that anything short of total abolition of the parties would lead to tribalist voting, where citizens vote down party lines rather than use critical thinking to decide which representative best aligns with their views.
Who’d be so foolish to think we’d be dumb enough to vote based on the D or R next to someone’s name?
Various other ideas have been presented as possible solutions without the entire system disappearing. One option gaining steam is rank choice voting. Rather than voting for just one person, voters rank their picks in order of preference. If no candidate receives the majority of votes, the person with the least votes is eliminated. Anyone who voted the eliminated person as the top pick will have their second choice counted in the next count. The process keeps going until one candidate secures the majority vote.
Rank choice is being adopted in numerous city and state elections and in certain state party primaries.
An Idea Shared Across America?
Calls for the end of the two-party system often grow when dissatisfaction increases in the country. No surprise, then, that the past three or so decades have seen increased calls for additional choices on several occasions.
In 1996, independent businessman Ross Perot posed the best independent challenge, accumulating 19.7 million votes, nearly 19% of the total tally. In 2000, Ralph Nader garnered just roughly 2.8 million votes. Still, his campaign is credited with swaying the election to George W. Bush Jr. Similar claims were made in 2016 when Dr. Jill Stein and Gary Johnson’s campaigns helped Donald Trump secure the election.
Other than Perot, fringe third party options have barely posed a threat. Instead, they represent a spoiler rather than a viable contender. The lack of real potential to win leads many to not vote for their preferred third party option and choose one of the big two. Only in times of severe frustration do people turn to third party choices, often as a form of protest vote.
Some say that’s democracy. Others would laugh and say a true democracy needs three or more viable options. With more viable parties, Americans would have choices that accurately reflect their views. From religious to far right to far left to the center, smaller parties would speak to the causes of voters rather than one politician promising tons and delivering on little once elected.
Sure, some might be afraid to see out and proud fascist and socialist parties, but they already exist in America. Many of whom already operate in the confines of the two major parties. Why not see how much of America truly aligns with these views and numerous other political ideologies?
Supporters of the status quo often say this is a critical reason the two-party system works. The system supposedly limits the rise of radical parties while promoting stability via broad coalitions. Some have stated that the current system beats out proportional representation, hypothesizing that voted-out parties could still cling to power through coalition parties if more options existed.
While certainly possible, change could also improve the chances that parties actually work together. If they don’t avoid gridlock, they face greater odds of being voted out. In this scenario, with multiple people on the bill, incumbents must show why they belong in power beyond the party letter next to their name.
Rather than forcing all political ideologies into the only two viable groups for a chance to win, scholars and legal minds have continued the decades-old call for the end of the two-party system. The sentiment is shared across the aisle, including strict conservatives who call for abolishing primary elections and party references on ballots.
Political Scientist Lee Drutman has been a prominent supporter of the movement, representing a more left-leaning viewpoint. In 2019, he wrote that he feels the problems in U.S. politics stemmed from a binary party system that divides Americans into two “irreconcilable teams.” In doing so, millions are cast afloat or forced to settle and vote for someone they don’t fully support.
Or, as Drutman wrote, “The many individuals and groups that don’t slot neatly into one of these teams have no other place to go.”
Many will counter, saying that’s democracy. But, in truth, it’s a bastardization of free choice that allows two parties to sow dissent among the public while fending off actual political challenges.
What Does This Have To Do With Weed?
The two party system has forced cannabis to play a game of incremental progress when time is not in its favor. Since the drug war began, time has never been in weed’s favor. But now, as a legal billion dollar industry matures and people remain in jail, cannabis reform must happen yesterday.
Thousands are still in state and federal prisons for nonviolent cannabis charges. Until laws change, American adults continue to be at the whim of state and federal rules. While many states have reformed laws, numerous lag behind. In doing so, millions of Americans continue to be prevented from access to medicine or their adult right to consume a substance that presents little fear of addiction or grave harm.
While banking pales compared to human rights, reform is also essential for businesses. You may not care if an MSO or major brand struggles with banking. But let’s not forget the many legacy operators who got licensed early on. Let’s not overlook the shop owners giving back to their communities. They deserve common sense banking, even if some suited vultures also benefit.
Yes, the current iteration of SAFE Banking is rumored to include some additional parameters, which may include record reform, like expungements for people previously convicted of a cannabis offense. That’s great to hear, but we’re still playing a dangerous game where expanding the bill’s scope to drug war victims could upset Republican Congress members and upend the bill.
And still, I find cannabis advocates celebrating the progress, as if this will mark the significant change needed. If passed, the bill will address banking and correct thousands of records. But it still falls short of legalizing the plant and freeing currently incarcerated individuals on the federal level.
This is where detractors will say other bills are coming down the pipeline to address these matters. And others, like the House’s 2022 passage of a bill to remove cannabis from the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, mark progress underway. We may even finally see rescheduling this year, which would be amazing.
Great, now when are any of them going to be enacted?
More so, why has it taken this long?
Why are we congratulating lawmakers for finally realizing cannabis convictions are unjust?
This should’ve been done years ago. But two parties and stubborn views helped clog the system up. No doubt we should celebrate the progress underway, but we should’ve been celebrating years ago.
With more parties, the minuscule progress made so far could be rightfully scrutinized, possibly impacting how people vote in elections.
I’m aware that dismantling two party dominance is likely a pipe dream. It certainly won’t happen tomorrow. But keep the idea in mind. Remember this wherever you see lawmakers gridlocking or obstructing on issues that unite Americans.
Whether it be for pot reform or otherwise, the two party system is choking out our options and limiting true representation in government. By having no real competition, the two parties can half-ass their way to the top and stay there as long as the voting public stays divided and at each other’s throats.
Cannabis represents the most diverse voting block in American history. We may not agree on everything, but it’s safe to say that most of us feel that lawmakers across the aisle are failing us. Remember that sentiment when it’s time to vote in local, state and national elections. Or, at the very least, start pushing for rank choice voting so that more options can appear on your ballot.