Members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security heard expert testimony today challenging the federal government’s failed policy of cannabis prohibition. The hearing, entitled “Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform,” debated the merits of various alternative policy options – including abolishing cannabis’ longstanding Schedule I criminal status under federal law.
The hearing marked the first time in decades that members have explicitly entertained debate regarding the need to end the federal criminalization of cannabis and to deschedule (remove) the plant from the Controlled Substances Act. You can watch the full hearing below:
Witnesses testifying at yesterday’s hearing were Dr. David Nathan of the group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, Marilyn Mosby, Esq., State’s Attorney for Baltimore City, Dr. G. Malik Burnett (formerly of the Drug Policy Alliance), and Neal Levine, Chief Executive Officer of the Cannabis Trade Federation. Their written testimony is available online here.
Members of Congress in attendance at the hearing included: Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), David Cicillini (D-RI), Ben Cline (R-VA), Stephen Cohen (D-TN), Doug Collins (R-GA), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Lucy McBath (D-GA), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), and Greg Stube (R-FL). Several members, including Reps. Cohen and Lieu, concurred with witnesses’ testimony that Congress should completely remove the cannabis plant from the federal Substances Act.
Committee members were broadly united in their support for legislation to address federal prohibition in some form.
In her opening comments, Committee Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-CA) said, “The war on drugs was racially biased from its inception and has been carried out in a discriminatory fashion with disastrous consequences for hundreds of thousands of people of color and their communities.”
Other members echoed similar sentiments:
“Marijuana should be an issue of personal choice and public health” – Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY)
“I think marijuana should be completely taken out of the controlled substance act…Everything in politics seems impossible until it happens . . . Keep on fighting and I believe we can get this done.” – Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA)
“[Marijuana decriminalization] may be one of the very few issues upon which bipartisan agreement can still be reached in this session.” – Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA)
A coalition of social advocacy groups – including NORML, the ACLU, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, The Immigrants Legal Resource Center, the Center for Law and Social Policy, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the Center for American Progress – released a joint Statement of Principles to coincide with the hearing. The Statement, which was entered into the record, highlights legislative priorities and provides Congress with a roadmap for ending America’s ongoing policy of cannabis criminalization.
Commenting on the hearing, NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said: “For the first time in a generation, members of Congress engaged in a candid conversation that acknowledged the failures of marijuana prohibition in the United States, how this policy has adversely impacted tens of millions of Americans, and how it must be reformed at the federal level.”
He added: “The ongoing classification under federal law of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance – a categorization that treats it in the same manner as heroin – is intellectually dishonest and has been scientifically debunked. It is high time that Congress address this Flat Earth policy and move forward with a plan that appropriately reflects marijuana’s rapidly changing cultural status in America.”
NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri added, “After nearly a century of prohibition, it is clear this policy has been an absolute failure and a national disgrace. All we have to show for the war we have waged on marijuana is the egregious harms it has wrought upon tens-of-millions of our fellow citizens. Congress must act swiftly and begin to remedy the pain caused by the criminalization of marijuana. The only real federal solution to this problem is the full descheduling of cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. This would allow us to stop ceding control of the marijuana market to the illicit market and allow state governments the opportunity to pursue alternative regulatory policies, free from the threat of federal intervention or prosecution. The American public is overwhelmingly ready to legalize marijuana, their elected officials in Washington need to finally start representing the will of the people.”
(PS: Did you see that, in honor of this hearing and all the progress we are making, our board member Rick Steves is offering to match ALL donations this week up to $40,000? Help us keep the fight going and double your impact today by donating HERE.)