On July 10, 2019, members of the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee convened the first-ever meeting on cannabis reform legislation. While the consensus of opinion was in support of reform, there was disagreement and debate on which strategies to pursue in order to achieve it. One of the witnesses was Maryland’s State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. This article summarizes what transpired in the meeting.
Of those advocating for cannabis reform and regulation, the following topics included:
- Ensure there is social equity in the cannabis industry
- Make amends to those harmed during prohibition; especially people of color
- Implement plans to invest in minority communities impacted by the War on Drugs
Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) views the continued use of criminal penalties for cannabis offenses as unjust and harmful. He believes that using cannabis is a personal choice and effects public health.
The focus of the hearing was not on specific pieces of cannabis legislation, although there was much discussion on whether or not cannabis should be descheduled entirely from the Controlled Substance Act (CSA).
Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-CA) pointed out that the War on Drugs has always been racially motivating, discriminating against people of color and their communities. It is well-documented that many more people of color than caucasians have been prosecuted and imprisoned for similar non-violent drug offenses.
However, Rep Tom McClintock, (R-CA), acting ranking member of the subcommittee accused the Democrats of the “playing the race card” which is harmful in dividing the country along racial lines. He does agree that bipartisan agreement on cannabis decriminalization can be reached without actually endorsing cannabis usage. He does not support its use which he described as “ill advised” but does not think it should be illegal. He agrees that the choice should be left up to each individual.
Chairman Nadler refuted these claims and reiterated that cannabis laws have always been and are still racially motivated. Changing the laws is a way of recognizing the situation and rectifying it.
In his testimony, Malik Burnett, policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, described the state of the country’s cannabis policy as a “tale of two Americas.” There is the white, wealthy and well connected America who have started cannabis companies, provided employment opportunities and have generated lots of tax dollars in state cannabis programs while amassing wealth and power.
In the other America, mostly disadvantaged people of color are arrested and convicted of non-violent drug offenses which deprives them of their civil rights and keeps them poor and powerless.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby appeared before the panel. In January, 2019, she publicly announced that she would no longer prosecute simple cannabis possession cases. She further commented that enforcing current drug laws does nothing to increase public safety. In fact, it amplifies the distrust between law enforcement officers and members of minority communities. It also exacerbates the racial divide in the criminal justice system.
SA Mosby believes that decriminalizing cannabis is not enough. She is calling for the legalization of cannabis. This means removing it as a Schedule I drug from the CSA, regulating it like alcohol and tobacco and opening up economic opportunities for reinvestment in minority communities hardest hit by the failed War on Drugs.
Dr. David Nathan, president of Doctors for Cannabis Regulations, testified that cannabis should never have been made illegal. He believes it is less harmful to adults than alcohol and tobacco. He views the effects of cannabis prohibition on our society as more deleterious than the use of cannabis itself.
The only minority party’s witness was Neal Levine, CEO of Cannabis Trade Federation, who supports cannabis reform but not federal descheduling or legalization. He supports the STATES Act, which is bipartisan legislation that would stop the federal government from interfering in states’ cannabis policies. By passing the STATES Act, Levine believes that there would be protections for cannabis industry workers. It would also encourage more equitable economic opportunities in minority and disadvantaged parts of the country.
Rep Matt Gaetz, (R-FL), a co-sponsor of the STATES Act, believes it is much more likely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate than other more comprehensive bills that the Democratic House majority supports. It does not include social justice reforms which is troubling to most Democrats. However, Gaetz feels that the passage of the STATES Act would be a good first step as Congress continues to move towards more wide-ranging cannabis legislation down the road.
Rep Doug Collins (R-GA), Judiciary Committee Ranking Member supports the passage of the STATES Act. He views it as an excellent starting point for cannabis reform. He described the current legal status of cannabis in the US as in “complete disarray.” He cited conflicts between federal and state laws as well as those between the US and other countries.
It is important to note that SA Mosby does not support the STATES Act because it does not address social justice reform. She feels it does not go far enough to help those hardest hit by the drug war by reinvesting in those communities.
Other topics under discussion included:
- Access to banking services
- Impeding consumption by teens
- Driving under the influence
- Controlling the opioid crisis
- Regulating interstate commerce
Long time cannabis legalization advocate Rep Steve Cohen, (D-TN) praised Rep Gaetz’s work through the STATES Act, but he believes it is time to remove cannabis from the Schedule I list and federally legalize it.
This hearing was momentous as a positive step towards ending cannabis prohibition. The expectation is that more bills will be introduced in the next few months. The Democratic majority in the House seems committed to making progress towards ending cannabis prohibition.
Stay tuned for more developments!
Source: marijuanamoment.net, Lawmakers and Witnesses Clash on Strategy During Congressional Hearing on Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition, Kyle Jaeger, July 10, 2019