Cannabis Legalization Hearing held by Congressional Committee
The House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties announced on November 8 that it would hold a hearing on November 15 to discuss cannabis legalization. The official title of the hearing was “Developments in State Cannabis Laws and Bipartisan Federal Cannabis Reform,” and a joint memo was released on November 12 to set out the themes of the discussion.
The hearing was chaired by Rep. Jamie Raskin (subcommittee chair) and Rep. Nancy Mace (senior member of the subcommittee) and included questions from Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rep. Peter Anderson Sessions of Texas, Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, Rep. Brian Higgins of New York, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (US House delegate representing the District of Columbia), Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Rep. James Comer from Kentucky and Rep. Robin Kelly from Illinois.
Witness speakers included Randal Woodfin (Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama), 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), Keeda Haynes (Senior Legal Advisor to Free Hearts who has connected remotely), Amber Littlejohn (Senior Policy Advisor to Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce) and Jillian Snider ( Policy Director of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties).
The discussion included a variety of facts surrounding the legalization of cannabis, the failed War on Drugs, such as Biden’s October announcement that federal cannabis convictions would be pardoned, requiring state action to help people seek treatment for veterans using cannabis seek the potential of hemp as a building material (and the associated legal challenges).
NORML’s Armentano provided many powerful facts and testimonies on legalization and how the cannabis industry has impacted black and brown people. “With cannabis determination, millions of Americans living in states where cannabis is legal in some form, as well as hundreds of thousands of people who work for the state-licensed industries that serve them, will no longer face unnecessary barriers and Discrimination — such as lack of access to financial services, credit, insurance, Second Amendment rights, tax deductions, certain professional security clearances and other privileges,” Armentano said.
Snider of the R Street Institute added that the country’s approach to legalization is messy due to the different layers of regulation. “Proposed federal legislation points to increased support for alternatives to the state prohibition on cannabis, and this increased support is critical to bringing clarity to the overall legal status of cannabis as the current situation presents inconsistencies and a quasi-legal conundrum,” said snider “The substance may be legal in one state and decriminalized in another, but because it’s still banned at the federal level, users or possessors of the substance face criminal prosecution.”
Towards the end of the hearing, Raskin asked Armentano about his hopes that Congress could come together to make legalization a reality. “So, Mr. Armentano, do you think Congress can catch up to where the majority of states are now on medical marijuana and decriminalization and legalization? [Mayor Woodfin] said. Do you think Congress will be able to do that? I know this hearing is an auspicious sign, but what do you think the chances of actually doing that in this session or the next?
Armentano responded, explaining that historically, whether you examine the history of alcohol prohibition or that of cannabis, prohibition has never worked. “Well, I don’t have a forecaster on my business card, but one would hope that congressmen see the need to act quickly,” Armentano said. “Look, to use your liquor ban analogy, the federal government got out of the liquor ban business when 10 states decided to go down a different route. The majority of US states have now chosen to take a different tack with cannabis, and it is untenable to maintain this gap between the states’ position on this policy and the federal government’s position. At the end of the day, the federal government needs to find a way to align federal policy with state policy, and that is through deleveraging.”
Mace and Raskin made closing statements based on what they heard during the hearing and what they hope will lead to it in the near future.
Mace condemned an earlier reference comparing cannabis to slavery. She addressed data showing that black and brown people are four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis and that it is up to Congress on both sides to address this issue. “Coming from South Carolina, where the difference between rich and poor is often black and white, and cannabis is an area where we can work together on both sides of the aisle to prevent more of these injustices from happening in our country and on.” injustices are happening around the world that have lasted for decades,” Mace said. “And I would encourage my fellow Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the aisle to get involved on this issue. The American people want it. Seventy percent of Americans support medicinal cannabis. Half or more than half support adult or recreational use across the country, whether they are from the red state of South Carolina or the blue state of California. east coast to west coast. Americans from all communities, all colors, all ages support this issue. The only place it’s disputed is here in the halls of the capital, and it’s wrong.”
Chairman Raskin concluded the hearing with a statement of his own, addressing the need for action by Congress. “Congress has to catch up, and that’s what this hearing is about, and that’s what I learned today. If we knew our history better, if we all took the time to read into Prohibition, we would see that America has been through it before. And it’s not like alcohol is like a birthday cake, it’s not. We lose more than 100,000 people every year to alcohol-related illness, to alcohol-related deaths on the highway, that needs to be regulated,” Raskin said.
“But the country has had its experience of criminalizing alcohol. It didn’t work and it caused much more serious problems and we know that’s exactly the story we’re living through today, again, with marijuana it needs to be regulated, it needs to be carefully controlled, but we shouldn’t humans jail for a day for any period of time for smoking marijuana. That makes no sense. We shouldn’t ruin people’s lives because of it. I think the country has made its decision, it’s time for Congress to catch up.”