Congress Schedules Hearing To Discuss Ending Marijuana Prohibition
A major congressional subcommittee will hold a hearing on marijuana policy next week, Marijuana Moment has learned.
Though few details about the meeting are currently available, the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee is expected to discuss various legislative proposals to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without fear of federal intervention.
Several sources who did not wish to be be identified shared with Marijuana Moment the names of witnesses expected to soon receive formal invitations to testify before the panel on Wednesday, July 10. Given the backgrounds of these individuals, it seems apparent that committee members will be discussing not whether the U.S. should end federal cannabis prohibition, but will focus primarily on how to do it.
Witnesses are anticipated to include Malik Burnett, a physician at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who previously served as the Washington, D.C. policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, where he helped lead a successful ballot initiative campaign to legalize cannabis in the nation’s capital in 2014.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who announced in January that her office would no longer prosecute cannabis possession cases and would work to clear the records of certain individuals with prior marijuana convictions, is also being invited to testify.
David Nathan, a physician and board president of the pro-legalization group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), will also appear before the committee.
He told Marijuana Moment that he looks “forward to discussing the evidence-based health effects of cannabis, the failure of prohibition, the inadequacy of decriminalization, and the public health and social justice benefits of effective regulation.”
“DFCR physicians have successfully fought for legalization in states around the country,” Nathan said. “Now DFCR is proud to advocate for the broad majority of Americans—both Republicans and Democrats—who want our government to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and finally end the specter of federal interference with state cannabis laws.”
Finally, Neal Levine, CEO of Cannabis Trade Federation, will be the minority witness—which is noteworthy in and of itself, as Levine advocates for legalization, while one might expect the minority Republican party to invite someone who shares an opposing perspective on ending prohibition.
“I cannot comment on what has not been announced publicly by the committee, but I would welcome the opportunity to share the perspective of our members,” Levine, who previously served as a staffer for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “We are especially well positioned to discuss the challenges arising from the inconsistency between state and federal cannabis laws.”
(Full disclosure: the Cannabis Trade Federation and its affiliate CTF Action have sponsored Marijuana Moment.)
After this story was initially published, the subcommittee posted an official notice for the hearing. It is titled “Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform” and will begin at 10:00 AM ET.
While lawmakers aren’t expected to vote on any particular bill at the hearing, it will nonetheless be one of the most significant congressional developments on marijuana reform to date.
The Judiciary Committee, under which this subcommittee falls, wields particular influence in advancing broad changes to federal drug laws, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) designated it as the panel to bring about the end of cannabis prohibition in a blueprint to legalization in the 116th Congress.
“For the first time in recent memory, there will be a candid conversation in the Judiciary Committee about the failures of marijuana prohibition in the United States and how people have been impacted,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “We look forward to working with the subcommittee to best inform the conversation and the public at large.”
Legislation that could be marked up by the panel in the future includes the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, the Marijuana Justice Act, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act and the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is also said to be working on his own bill to end federal marijuana prohibition, but no details have yet been announced.
Notably, every single Democratic member of the full Judiciary Committee, including the chairman, voted in favor of amendment protecting cannabis programs in all states, U.S. territories and Washington, D.C. from Justice Department intervention last month. Six Republican members of the panel joined them in support of the measure, which was attached to spending legislation that has since cleared the House. The bipartisan nature of that vote indicates that further reform legislation stands a strong chance of passing in the committee.
Besides Blumenauer’s House-passed amendment protecting cannabis programs, this Congress has also seen several other hearings on cannabis issues. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee discussed four pieces of legislation concerning veterans and marijuana last month, and the House Small Businesses Committee also convened to address opportunities and barriers for small cannabis businesses under the federal framework of prohibition.
In March, a bipartisan bill that would provide protections for banks that service cannabis businesses cleared the House Financial Services Committee following a hearing on the issue, and a full floor vote on that legislation could be coming soon.
Unlike the new Judiciary hearing, the minority witnesses at the Financial Services and Small Business hearings—representatives of the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana and the Heritage Foundation, respectively—opposed legalization.
This story was updated to note the title and time of the hearing.
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Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.