Congress Holds Hearing On Ending Cannabis Prohibition

For more than twenty years, states have been moving away from cannabis criminalization by passing medical and adult-use marijuana laws, and now the federal government is looking for a path to accommodating policy reform.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing entitled “Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform.”

A panel including Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, Cannabis Trade Federation CEO Neal Levine, Drug Policy Alliance Policy Manager Dr. G. Malik Burnett, and Doctors For Cannabis Cannabis Regulation Board President Dr. David Nathan appeared before the subcommittee to testify.

In her opening statement, Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-CA) emphasized the failed War on Drugs and its disproportionate enforcement of cannabis possession laws against people of color.

“Since the time President Nixon declared the War on Drugs in the early 1970s, the effect of this war on black and Latino communities has been severely disproportionate,” said Chairwoman Bass. “The War on Drugs was racially-biased from its inception, and it has been carried out in a discriminatory fashion with disastrous consequences for hundreds of thousands of people of color and their communities.”

Bass noted that nearly 80 percent of people in federal prison, and almost 60 percent of those in state prisons for drug-related offenses are black or Latino.

Topics covered during questioning by the committee included the opioid epidemic, accidental cannabis ingestion, research barriers, intoxicated driving, banking issues, the STATES Act, and industry allowances for individuals and communities who have been the most heavily impacted by marijuana criminalization.

“Cannabis shouldn’t simply be rescheduled,” said Nathan as he delivered written testimony. “Like alcohol, it should be removed from the Controlled Substances Act completely; even if it had no medical value, free society should not punish competent adults for the personal use of this non-lethal plant.”

“We must stop using a sledgehammer to kill a weed,” he said.

As Representative Stephen Cohen (D-TN) adjourned the session, he thanked everyone who participated in what he called a historic hearing on an issue that he said he has been working on for decades.

“I’ve been working on this issue for forty years, and it’s just crazy that we don’t just get it all done,” said Cohen. “I appreciate Mr. Gaetz’s work on the issue, but—and I understand incremental, but after forty years, it’s time to just zap straight up, get it all done, Schedule I gone.”