GOP Cannabis Caucus Leader Explains Why He Opposes Marijuana Legalization Bill Getting House Vote (Op-Ed)
“We have to quit the games and instead act on effective, achievable cannabis reform that can build the bipartisan consensus necessary to become law and improve the lives of millions.”
By Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH)
As a Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, I am dedicated to the immediate and responsible end of federal cannabis prohibition. As a former prosecutor, I believe in effectively addressing the unjust consequences of cannabis criminalization. As one of the lone Republicans on this issue, I recognize that bipartisanship is the only foundation upon which Congress can build the consensus necessary to enact impactful cannabis reform.
For these reasons, I cannot support the MORE Act.
As we learned following alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, it is in the public’s interest to ensure Americans have safe products that are grown, processed and consumed in an effective regulatory system.
That’s why I introduced the first Republican bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to both end federal cannabis prohibition and call for proactive federal regulations similar to alcohol. It remains the only bipartisan measure to do so.
To responsibly end prohibition, the federal government must simultaneously issue a regulatory framework that works in conjunction with states’ specifics needs. The MORE Act lacks this critical element or any meaningful and immediate regulatory safeguards at all, leaving individual states to sort out issues typically reserved for federal agencies in the interim.
This will be as detrimental to anyone who relies on the legal cannabis market as prohibition currently is today.
Furthermore, most, if not all, of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle agree with me: aside from the physician-prescribed treatment of a minor, cannabis must remain an adult use product. So why are we voting on proposals that don’t guarantee that it will? I cannot vote for bills that jeopardize that reality and disregard the need for federal safety and production regulations that ensure cannabis is suitable for consumption.
The MORE Act also claims to deliver on social justice imperatives through mass expungements, but in reality it provides relatively minimal relief to the majority of those whose lives continue to be affected by their prior cannabis records.
While an estimated 250 to 2,500 individuals carry federal cannabis charges that are eligible for expungements under the MORE Act, the overwhelming majority of cannabis-related charges exist at the state and local level. In fact, more than 14 million Americans suffer from the consequences of non-federal cannabis-related arrest records that occurred over the past 20 years.
This begs the question: why doesn’t the bill prioritize state and local-level expungements?
By failing to establish a regulatory framework upon ending federal prohibition, targeting expungement relief to individuals with federal records and further polarizing this issue rather than building the foundation necessary for bipartisan buy-in, the MORE Act is a messaging bill at best and at worst, irresponsible. That’s why I made several good faith efforts to improve the legislation from the onset to help it garner the Republican support necessary to pass both chambers.
With seven out of 10 Americans in agreement that Congress must reform our nation’s arcane cannabis laws, there is no more time to waste with legislative proposals which stand little to no chance for Senate floor consideration, let alone majority consensus or presidential signature.
Since the House last voted on the MORE Act, a number of more targeted, bipartisan cannabis reform proposals have been introduced. By forsaking these bills for an all-or-nothing approach, congressional leadership is perpetuating federal cannabis prohibition and allowing the unsustainable patchwork of federal and state cannabis laws to fester.
This is not the political reality that any of us want, and I will continue to work to change it, but it does no good for lawmakers, stakeholders, industry and advocates alike to deny it.
Despite my concerns with the MORE Act, I applaud many of my Democratic colleagues’ commitment to addressing the federal government’s antiquated cannabis policy and am proud to work alongside them to advance this important issue, particularly my fellow caucus co-chairs, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA). They have worked with me and our late Republican colleague Rep. Don Young (R-AK) to introduce a number of bipartisan proposals, including, but not limited to the STATES Act in the 115th Congress and the Veterans Safe Harbor Act in the 117th Congress. I full-heartedly believe that our bipartisan work will one day prevail.
In the meantime, like many of you, I am disappointed that federal prohibition does not end here. And, like many of you, I am committed to getting us there. But to do so, we have to quit the games and instead act on effective, achievable cannabis reform that can build the bipartisan consensus necessary to become law and improve the lives of millions.
The time is now.
House Formally Advances Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill For Floor Vote, With Praise From Pelosi