On Tuesday, November 15th, the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a hearing entitled “Developments in State Cannabis Laws and Bipartisan Cannabis Reforms at the Federal Level.” They heard testimony from advocates representing a wide variety of stakeholders and political ideologies who share their support for ending federal prohibition. NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano testified to the growing divide between state and federal cannabis laws and the need for congressional action to remove cannabis from the schedule of controlled substances to properly remedy this conflict.
“Our nation’s federalist principles demand that the federal government respects voters’ decisions to legalize cannabis,” says Armentano. “At a time of record public support for legalization and when the majority of states regulate cannabis use, it makes no sense from a political, fiscal, or cultural perspective for Congress to try to put this genie back in the bottle or to continue to place its collective head in the sand. It is time for the federal government to end its nearly century-long experiment with cannabis prohibition.”
A fair amount of discussion was devoted to asking witnesses about the best way for Congress to end prohibition and what roles the states and the federal government should play in regulating cannabis. This is a reasonably good indicator that supportive lawmakers are teeing up the issue for consideration in the next session under Republican control of the House.
This bipartisan-supported hearing, called by Reps. Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD), took place just one week after voters in two more states – Maryland and Missouri – approved ballot measures making cannabis legal for adults, and dozens of municipalities across the country opted to reduce or remove penalties for marijuana possession. There are now 21 states where cannabis is legal for adults, and 37 states have effective medical cannabis programs. Several state legislatures are expected to consider legalization bills next year.
House members have passed several marijuana-related bills this year, including the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act in April, which deschedules marijuana and helps to repair the racially and economically disparate impacts of criminalization. Both the House and Senate have approved legislation to facilitate and expedite clinical cannabis research and drug development; however, a compromise bill was blocked from receiving a unanimous consent vote in September. Senate leadership is working to advance incremental legislation to address cannabis banking and to facilitate the expungement of certain cannabis-specific criminal records before the end of the current session.