Yesterday was a day that will go down in history. Depending on the history book you read, of course.
Though one could easily argue that federal marijuana prohibition should already be ancient history in this country, it isn’t. (No big surprise in a country where women haven’t had the national right to vote for even 100 years yet.)
ANYHOW, as members convened for the first-ever congressional hearing on ending Federal marijuana prohibition yesterday, things went surprisingly well.
Unlike in other parts of the federal government, the conversations were informed and productive and fear mongering was at a bare minimum. So kudos!
An Overriding Agreement on the Need for Cannabis Reform
Republicans and Democrats getting along. It’s nice isn’t? Of course it wasn’t all hand-holding and singing Kumbaya.
There was some debate and discord over just exactly what that reform should look like – as well as the best way to go about enforcing it.
And then there were many lawmakers who were viewing reform as a given, and wanted to move straight to discussing how to regulate cannabis. Which is precisely what advocates suspected they’d do.
But it makes sense. These lawmakers are hungry to take a long hard look at issues like repairing the harms of prohibition, social equity in the legal industry, and investing in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the “war on drugs”.
“The war on drugs was racially biased from its inception and has been carried out in a discriminatory fashion with disastrous consequences for hundreds of thousands of people of color and their communities,” said Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-CA) in her opening statement.
And she’s right.
The Two Americas
Dr. Malik Burnett is a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health physician and former Washington, D.C. policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, He also serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the minority owned multi-state cannabis business Tribe Companies.
Burnett provided written testimony that backed Bass. In it he said:
It is an unmitigated fact that the state of cannabis policy today in best described as a tale of two Americas. In one America there are men and women, most of them wealthy, white and well connected, who are starting cannabis companies, creating jobs and amassing significant personal wealth, and generating billions in tax dollars for the states which sanction cannabis programs.
“In the other America, there are men and women, most of them poor, people of color, who are arrested and suffer the collateral consequences associated with criminal conviction.”
Last January, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that her office would no longer prosecute cannabis possession cases. She also appeared before the panel.
“The test of time has provided us with ample data that there is little public safety value related to the current enforcement of marijuana laws,” Mosby said in written testimony. “The data indicates that the disparate enforcement of marijuana laws and overall drug laws not only intensifies already existing racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but exacerbates distrust among communities and law enforcement without increasing overall public safety.”
Mosby believes that decriminalization is just a start. She’d like to see us go past that and actually make cannabis legal.
Into Everyone’s Life a Little Rain Must Fall
And yesterday’s little cloudburst was brought to you by Republican Representative Tom McClintock, who served as the acting ranking member of the subcommittee.
He agreed that marijuana criminalization may very well be one of the few issues upon which there is bipartisan agreement. Even for those who don’t endorse cannabis.
But then he added that Democratic leadership “has decided to play the race card in this hearing” by framing the issue in terms of racial justice and that the “left does enormous harm every time it tries to divide Americans along racial lines.”
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) then emphasized that marijuana laws had, in fact, been done in a racially disparate manner. And that pointing it out was not an attempt to inflame racial division, but rather to simply point out a fact.
And this is a guy who believes that cannabis use is, in most cases, “ill advised.” But he feels strongly that it should be left to the judgment of those who want to use it.
Then there was Neal Levine. Levine is CEO of Cannabis Trade Federation, and was the Republican’s sole witness at the hearing. Rather than accusing Democrats of inciting race riots, he wanted to get down to business.
“The most immediate path to resolving the state-federal cannabis conflict is passage of the STATES Act,” he said.
The STATES Act is bipartisan legislation that would allow states to set their own marijuana policies independent of federal law. There is a lot of support for this legislation. But it would not de-schedule cannabis. And it also does not include social equity provisions. So lawmakers like Mosby are not in support of it.
Even so, Levine held that, “Immediate passage of the STATES Act could also help spur economic activity in disadvantaged areas in our country.”
What Is the Best Way to Go?
The debate rages on.
There are those who feel that pursuing reform proposals like the STATES Act stand a better chance of passing in the Republican-controlled Senate.
But others feel that the House should use the opportunity presented by the overarching support for legalization among its Democratic majority to take up more comprehensive bills.
Whatever the case, cannabis is finally a serious topic on Capitol Hill.
And Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, pointed out that state cannabis programs are “successfully replacing criminal markets with well regulated businesses across the country and public support for ending prohibition continues to rise.”
“It’s long past time for Congress to align federal policies with modern state marijuana laws and public opinion by removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act so that we can begin the process of developing federal policies that will not only respect state laws, but will defend public health and safety, protect small businesses, and help repair the damage prohibition policies have inflicted on communities of color,” he added.
What Is Next?
We’re experts in cannabis marketing, not reading tea leaves.
But yesterday’s Congressional hearing on ending federal marijuana prohibition was surely a first step in what’s expected to lead to a markup of one or more bills in the months to come.
Which, regardless of how long it’s taken to get to this point, is great news. So we’ll take it.
And for more news and happenings in the cannabis industry, keep checking back with our blog.