Congressional lawmakers on a House subcommittee have announced witnesses for a hearing on state and federal marijuana reform that’s scheduled for next week.
The House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties posted a notice providing details about the meeting on Wednesday, listing seven witnesses with broadly pro-reform advocacy backgrounds who will discuss cannabis policy developments at the state and federal level.
Witnesses include members of marijuana reform and lobbying groups, as well as the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama. The subcommittee meeting, titled “Developments in State Cannabis Laws and Bipartisan Cannabis Reforms at the Federal Level,” will take place on Tuesday, November 15.
— Oversight Committee (@OversightDems) November 9, 2022
Members will “examine the many benefits of cannabis decriminalization at the federal level, including addressing racial disparities in the criminal justice system, improving treatment options for veterans, and allowing marijuana companies to access traditional banking services,” the notice says.
Here are the witnesses who are currently slated to speak at the meeting:
Randall Woodfin, mayor of Birmingham
Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML
Andrew Freedman, executive director of Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR)
Eric Goepel, founder and CEO of Veterans Cannabis Coalition (VCC)
Keeda Haynes, senior legal advisor of Free Hearts
Amber Littlejohn, senior policy advisor of Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce (GACC)
Jillian Snider, director of criminal justice & civil liberties at R Street Institute
The mayor of Birmingham might not be associated with a formal advocacy organization, but he’s made headlines over recent years for using his executive authority to pardon thousands of city residents with misdemeanor marijuana convictions on their records.
Goepel of VCC, meanwhile, has long pushed for federal reform, focusing on promoting medical cannabis access for the veteran population. He recently wrote about the unique challenges to advancing reform posed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in an op-ed for Marijuana Moment.
“We hope that this hearing sets the stage for the next phase of bipartisan Congressional work on descheduling, legalization, and other cannabis-related reforms,” Goepel told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday. “It is far past time to recognize the harms of prohibition and the empty case for federally criminalizing the plant.”
“The price of continuing inaction will be measured in the lost lives of veterans who are dying from suicide and overdose because they lack safe, legal access to cannabis and knowledgable health care providers to help them understand its potential risks and benefits,” he said. “We plan on talking about our state work with compassionate donations in California as well as needed federal reforms like discharge upgrades for veterans separated from the military because of cannabis and the expansion of toxic exposure legislation to include research into cannabinoids as treatments for associated illnesses.”
Some advocates may take issue with the participation of CPEAR on the panel in light of ongoing concerns about the organization’s ties to the alcohol and tobacco industries.
The subcommittee notice says that additional witnesses will be announced before the meeting.
It also talks about racial disparities in marijuana enforcement and the “life-altering implications for employment, housing, and education” that can come with a cannabis conviction.
“Decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level and expunging criminal convictions for possession would alleviate these burdens and allow for societal advancement,” it says.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who serves as the GOP ranking member on the panel, previously told Marijuana Moment that she had received a “promise” from leadership that her States Reform Act (SRA) would be taken under consideration in the panel.
That legislation would end federal marijuana prohibition while taking specific steps to ensure that businesses in existing state markets can continue to operate unencumbered by changing federal rules.
The subcommittee’s notice about next week’s meeting doesn’t explicitly mention Mace’s SRA. Instead, it says members will “examine legislative efforts to remove cannabis from the controlled substance list, including the House passage of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act), and to balance federal regulation of this burgeoning industry with existing state-based regimes.”
The House passed the MORE Act, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), for the second time in April.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), chair of the Oversight subcommittee, has also expressed interest in cannabis reform issues. For example, he filed a floor amendment to the MORE Act to require federal agencies to review security clearance denials going back to 1971 and retroactively make it so cannabis could not be used “as a reason to deny or rescind a security clearance.” That measure was narrowly defeated in a floor vote.
With respect to state-level marijuana developments, the panel will be meeting about one week after this Tuesday’s election, which saw two more states, Maryland and Missouri, vote to legalize adult-use cannabis.
This month also marks the 10-year anniversary of the first state votes to legalize cannabis for adult-use in Colorado and Washington State.
To mark the occasion, Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) recently announced that he will soon be filing a bill to direct the attorney general to create a commission charged with making recommendations on a regulatory system for marijuana that models what’s currently in place for alcohol.
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The most recent House action on marijuana reform came in late September, when the Judiciary Committee approved a series of criminal justice reform bills—including bipartisan proposals to clear records for prior federal marijuana convictions, provide funding for states that implement systems of automatic expungements and codify retroactive relief for people incarcerated due to on crack-cocaine sentencing disparities.
There was also expected to be an expedited vote in the Senate on a House-passed cannabis research bill in September, but that was delayed after a GOP senator raised an objection.
Also on the Senate side, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has been working to finalize a package of incremental marijuana legislation, which is expected to include cannabis industry banking protections and expungements proposals.
Schumer recently said that Congress is getting “very close” to introducing and passing the marijuana bill, colloquially known as SAFE Plus, following discussions with a “bunch of Republican senators.”
The Oversight panel also discussed in its notice President Joe Biden’s mass pardon proclamation for people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses and direct an administrative review of cannabis scheduling under federal law.
“Building on this critical step, advocates are calling for action in Congress to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level,” it says.
Biden told college students at a rally on Monday that the fate of marijuana reform rests on their votes. The comments came as the White House is separately touting the president’s recent pardons as part of the administration’s plan to promote “equity and fairness in the justice system” to support the Black community.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.