Connect with us


Could House Republicans End Cannabis Prohibition? (Op-Ed)



“If there was ever a better time to be a cannabis advocate on Capitol Hill, I don’t know when.”

By Don Murphy, Marijuana Leadership Campaign

Most drug policy activists were thrilled when Democrats took over the House in 2018 and their expectations were even higher when they took back the White House and the Senate in 2020. The drug war was going to end. It was not a matter of when, but how.

To their credit, House Democrats made history with the first stand alone cannabis reform bill to ever pass a chamber of Congress with the MORE Act—but Senate Republicans failed to take up the measure in the lame duck session of the 116th Congress. MORE was passed by the House again during the 117th Congress, yet Senate Democrats continued to fail to consider it. And of course, House Democrats sent the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act to the Senate not once, not twice, but seven times without a hearing or a vote on the Senate side. To put it politely, Senate Democrats underperformed.

Even President Biden, who issued a mass pardon for federal non-violent marijuana possession offenses last fall, failed to highlight his cannabis clemency in Tuesday’s State of the Union Address. That omission left advocates to wonder if that’s all they were going to get from the administration this term.

With Republicans retaking the House in last year’s midterm elections, many advocates (and their funders) could be headed to greener pastures in the states as conventional wisdom and at least one U.S. senator suggested it will be “many years from now” before we make any progress. With all due respect to conventional wisdom and that senator, I think that is wrong.

History suggests otherwise. The only pro-cannabis legislation ever passed of any consequence was then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s (R-CA) appropriations rider that protects medical states from federal interference. The measure became law in 2014, when the GOP controlled the House and the Democrats controlled the Senate and the White House. That’s exactly where we are today.

If there was ever a better time to be a cannabis advocate on Capitol Hill, I don’t know when.

Say what you will about the food fight which was the race for House speaker, but the rule changes it ushered in create an opportunity reformers have not had in years. We now have the chance to offer (germane) amendments to pending legislation. The drug war may not end in one great comprehensive bill, but it could die the death of a thousand cuts.

We now have a GOP speaker and whip who have voted for various reform bills (including SAFE Banking), which is more than can be said about their counterparts in the Senate. One of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) nomination speeches was offered by Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), a co-chair of the House Cannabis Caucus. And one of McCarthy’s early and vocal supporters, Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), is the other GOP co-chair. They will have plenty to say about the GOP’s cannabis agenda.

Give him credit, McCarthy did us a solid with his recently announced committee assignments. Bills related to criminal justice would go to House Judiciary. Legislation focused on the industry like SAFE Banking would go to Financial Services. They all make their way to House Rules before a floor vote.

Of the 23 veteran House Republicans now on the Financial Services Committee, 15 voted YEA on SAFE Banking and 8 voted NAY. Five were SAFE co-sponsors including Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN). There are 6 GOP freshman without federal cannabis votes. Even if they were all bad, we still win. This bodes well for the future of SAFE.

Of the returning 19 House Republicans now on the Judiciary Committee, 11 voted YEA on SAFE Banking and/or the MORE Act and/or the an appropriations rider to shield all state marijuana laws from federal interference. Two of the three Republicans with the best cannabis voting records (Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Tom McClintock (R-CA) are on Judiciary. Again, there are 6 GOP freshman without federal cannabis votes but we should expect they will be better than the members they replaced, because support for reform tends to be generational, with younger lawmakers more likely to be on board than those who are of retiring age.

If and when our bills reach the powerful Rules Committee, they will get a friendly reception. Of the 7 veteran Republicans now on Rules, four voted FOR SAFE Banking including: Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) and Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) and Ralph Norman (R-SC). Reps. Massie and Reschenthaler also voted FOR the appropriations rider to protect state marijuana laws, as did Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX). The only thing that could make Rules better is if SAFE’s longtime champion, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), who retired this year, could be there to make the favorable motion.

If you want more evidence that Republicans can support cannabis reform without fear of retribution in their primaries, I give you Exhibits A & B. The self proclaimed ‘Godmother of Weed,’ Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), crushed her primary opponent last year, and newly declared U.S. Senate candidate, Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV) recently refiled his Second Amendment Protection Act to allow medical marijuana patients to keep and possess firearms.

Quantifiable success will likely occur during the second half of the term, but we are off to a very good start in the Republican-controlled House.

Could it be that the biggest obstacle to ending the drug war continues to be Senate Democrats? That’s up to them.

Named a top federal cannabis lobbyist by Politico, Don Murphy served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1995 to 2003 and is a four-time RNC Convention Delegate. He is the original lead sponsor of the Darrell Putman Compassionate Use Act, the first Republican-led medical marijuana bill to become law. Murphy founded Republicans for Compassionate Access in 2002. From 2014-21 Murphy was the federal lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project and is currently the director of government relations for the Marijuana Leadership Campaign.

Bipartisan Senators File Revised Veterans Marijuana Research Bill, With House Companion Set To Drop Next Week

Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
Become a patron at Patreon!

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Get our daily newsletter.

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox


Get our daily newsletter.