Three Republican members of Congress who support marijuana legalization are laying out their vision for reform during the current lame duck, as well as the next session when the GOP takes back control of the House, expressing optimism about the momentum toward ending federal prohibition.
Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH), Brian Mast (R-FL) and Nancy Mace (R-SC) shared their perspectives on the issue in an interview series with RealClearPolitics, sponsored by the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR) and released on Thursday.
Each lawmaker said that they hoped to see the Senate move forward with some kind of marijuana reform in the remaining weeks of the 117th Congress, saying that while the expectation is that the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is finalizing will be incremental, those small steps could be refined and expanded upon, even with a divided Congress next session.
Joyce, a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said that it was a “good” thing for marijuana reform that Democrats held onto the Senate because it “gave them more runway toward the end of the year.” He said bipartisan senators like Schumer and Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) have put in “hard work” on the forthcoming package, which is expected to center of cannabis banking and expungements, and he hopes “that they continue to stay consistent.”
“Hopefully some of these things will get accomplished at the end of this term,” he said, adding that it would set up lawmakers in the next session to smooth out any “rough edges” in the legislation and advance follow-up bills to address any “unforeseen” issues with the reforms.
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Each of the three lawmakers said that they’d like to see an end to federal prohibition, and that conservatives should embrace the Constitution’s federalist principles by letting states make their own choices about cannabis policy. But they also recognized that diverging opinions about the details and scope of reform make it more challenging to advance substantive legislation.
Joyce—who is the sponsor of a bipartisan cannabis expungements bill alongside Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), as well as another measure to prepare the federal government for eventual legalization—said that he expects to see more comprehensive reform move as younger generations of lawmakers, with experience in state legislatures that have enacted legalization, take their seats in Congress.
In the interim, the congressman said it’s important to be strategic about pursuing incremental reform, “meeting [lawmakers] where they’re at so they get comfortable with it and get bills in a patchwork way moving forward.”
He also pointed out that taking that approach would make it more likely that legislation doesn’t just move through Congress but also receives the signature of President Joe Biden, who “unfortunately, drugs have affected his family, so he’s not coming to this as a willing participant, necessarily.”
Mast, who replaced the late Rep. Don Young (R-AK) as the second GOP co-chair of the Cannabis Caucus this year, made similar points, though he seemed more sour on the prospects of enacting meaningful reform during the lame duck and said it’s “more likely in the next Congress.”
Internally, GOP members of the House are rallying around the idea of putting together “simple, straightforward pieces of legislation so that people can know exactly what their representatives are, in fact, standing up for,” Mast said, adding that the strategy could be more effective for marijuana reform compared to placing various proposals in large-scale measures as some lawmakers have tried.
In that sense, the congressman said that he is “actually more hopeful” about marijuana legislation moving forward in the next session with a GOP House majority, and he said that the “base” reform should be descheduling.
“I think the argument [for cannabis reform] gets stronger and stronger every day,” he said. And he encouraged his Republican colleagues to keep the same states’ rights mentality with marijuana that they do for other issues like reproductive rights and immigration policy.
“Be consistent and apply that same policy in the same way,” Mast said. “But, like I said, one of the things that, in my opinion, gives us a greater ability to advance this in this Republican House of Representatives is going to be our internal push to have simple up-or-down votes.”
The congressman, who lost both his legs while serving as an Army explosive ordnance disposal technician in Afghanistan, also spoke about the benefits of medical cannabis for military veterans.
Mace, for her part, said that any GOP members who oppose cannabis reform are “on the wrong side of this issue, whether you live in a blue state or a red state.”
The congresswoman, who is sponsoring a legalization bill, added that advancing reform means finding “ways to make this a bipartisan issue,” and the simplest way to do that would be to frame it as a states rights issue.
Mace’s States Reform Act (SRA) would let states make those policy decisions, but it also includes more targeted provisions such as imposing a federal tax and distribute revenue to certain agencies and programs. And that creates a challenge for enacting the bill on a bipartisan and bicameral basis.
“We are doing a disservice to the American people by sitting on our hands and doing absolutely nothing,” she said. “And I blame both sides of the aisle. I blame Republicans and I blame Democrats for making a lot of promises and not following through on them.”
She made similar points in a recent interview with Marijuana Moment that followed a hearing on cannabis reform in a House Oversight subcommittee that she serves on as the GOP ranking member.
Meanwhile, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), the House sponsor of a bipartisan marijuana banking bill, said this week that he sees signs that the Senate will finally act during the lame duck session—but he is cautioning that he’s “been disappointed before.”
Talks on the omnibus bill have been intensifying in recent weeks, with the Schumer discussing the proposal with key bipartisan senators. But as Perlmutter noted, time is running thin.
The majority leader said late last month that Congress is getting “very close” to introducing and passing the marijuana banking and expungements bill, citing progress he’s made in discussions with a “bunch of Republican senators.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), meanwhile, said following the election that Democrats who want to enact cannabis reform must either do it “now” during the lame duck session or wait until “many years from now” when his party has a shot at controlling Congress again.