The chair of a critical House committee said on Wednesday that his panel and the larger body will take up legislation to protect states with legal marijuana from federal intervention “in a relatively short time, within the next several weeks, and I think we will have a very strong vote.”
“We will guide it to the House floor for a vote, which I think it will pass with an overwhelming vote—Democrats and I think a lot of Republicans as well,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), whose Rules Committee decides how legislation is handled on the chamber’s floor. “If we have a strong bipartisan vote that will increase the pressure on the Senate to do something.”
In the interview with Boston Herald Radio, McGovern said he wasn’t familiar with President Trump’s position on cannabis.
“I hope he will sign whatever the House and Senate put together but I’m confident he will get a bill.” he said.
McGovern was answering a question about the the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which his home state colleague Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) filed last year with Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO). The legislation, which Trump has said he “really” supports, died at the end of the last Congress and has not yet been formally reintroduced this year. The bill would exempt state-legal marijuana activity from the federal Controlled Substances Act.
“Whether it’s the Warren-Gardner bill or another configuration I would expect something would happen this year,” McGovern said.
Listen to McGovern’s marijuana comments, about 15:30 into the audio clip below:
McGovern also pointed out how his Republican predecessor at the helm of the key committee had a different perspective on marijuana.
“The previous chair of the Rules committee [Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX)] blocked everything cannabis-related. We’re in a new day,” he said. “We need to make sure that our federal laws don’t obstruct what states are doing, especially with regard to the banking issues, where everything now is being done in cash and this is not the way we want this to go. We need to make sure that the federal laws respect what the states are doing.”
Sessions lost his reelection bid in the November midterm elections, and Democrats took the House majority.
Now that he and his party are in charge of the chamber, McGovern is bullish about the prospects for marijuana reform.
“That’s going to happen, and I feel really confident that we’ll pass it in the House and I think that there is bipartisan support in the Senate on this as well,” he said.
Besides the Rules Committee, several other panels are expected to move on cannabis legislation soon.
The House Financial Services Committee, for example, is scheduled to vote on a marijuana banking bill on Wednesday.
On that topic, McGovern said it “doesn’t seem safe and it doesn’t seem sensible” to force marijuana businesses to use cash, which can make them targets for crime. He said people in Congress “don’t always deal with reality,” which is why it’s been slow to embrace legislation like the banking bill.
“My predecessor in the Rules committee I think had a moral objection to this and just wouldn’t let any amendments come to the floor to address this issue,” he said. “And I know former Attorney General [Jeff] Sessions was very much opposed to any legislation that would allow the federal government to respect state laws because he just had this—I don’t even quite even know what the objection was, but he just was against it.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said in January that his panel would also likely be voting on cannabis reform “fairly soon.”
In the radio interview, McGovern also spoke about how there’s “always a line of people” waiting to get into a marijuana retailer that is located close to his district office.
And his GOP counterpart’s prior blockade of cannabis legislation aside, the Democratic congressman argued that marijuana is not a partisan issue.
“I think that what we’re finding here is that the states that are moving forward on the issue of marijuana are not just Democratic blue states, they’re also Republican red states,” McGovern said. “You have liberal Democrats and you have conservative Republicans and you have everybody in between all understanding that it makes sense to update our laws.”
“I think there’s this consensus developing that the status quo is unacceptable,” he said.