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Will Congress End Marijuana Prohibition?

2 minute Read

Marijuana is having its moment in federal politics, what with a new Congressional caucus dedicated to cannabis, the administration’s threats to enforce prohibition in green states, and now a new bill that could make weed a non-issue altogether.

This week, Congressman Tom Garrett (R-VA) introduced a bill called the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017 that would deschedule marijuana, removing it from the Controlled Substances Act and leaving cannabis policy up to the states.

While it would still be federally illegal to transport marijuana into a state or jurisdiction where it’s illegal under local law, the bill would absolve all federal penalties resulting from marijuana convictions, such as property forfeiture and denial of public benefits.

“I have long believed justice that isn’t blind, isn’t justice,” Garrett said in a statement. “Statistics indicate that minor narcotics crimes disproportionately hurt areas of lower socioeconomic status and what I find most troubling is that we continue to keep laws on the books that we do not enforce.” Individual states are capable of handling marijuana policy on their own, he added. Descheduling marijuana would promote not only state sovereignty in determining appropriate medical regulations for cannabis, but also growth in the agricultural sector by facilitating hemp cultivation, Garrett said.

During his confirmation hearing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pointed out, amidst threatening to crack down on green states, that if legislators didn’t like his approach, they should change the law. Garrett’s bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), aims to do just that.

The legislation was actually introduced originally by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in 2015. Sanders’ bill was identical to the one Garrett just introduced, however the senator hasn’t indicated yet whether he’ll reintroduce it in his chamber.

While there’s also been talk on the federal level of rescheduling, such as via the CARERS Act which would categorize cannabis as a Schedule II substance, reform activists like NORML’s Paul Armentano say descheduling is preferable.

“Specifically, reclassifying cannabis from I to II (or even to Schedule III) continues to misrepresent the plant’s safety relative to other controlled substances, such as methamphetamine (Schedule II), anabolic steroids (Schedule III), or alcohol (unscheduled), and fails to provide states with the ability to regulate it absent from federal interference,” Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, wrote in an email to Jane Street. Only descheduling, rather than rescheduling, could loosen the grasp of federal prohibition or make herbal cannabis accessible for clinical study, he said.

In light of Sessions’ comments targeting state marijuana programs, this act is necessary to ensure that patients are protected from federal interference, Armentano added. “Passage of this act comports with longstanding Republican principles of limited government, as well as with the President’s populist rhetoric,” he said. More than 70 percent of voters oppose federal enforcement of prohibition in green states. “If the majority party or the new administration fails to get behind this measure, it is further evidence that they are out-of-touch with voters and that they are willing to put anti-marijuana ideology ahead of principle.”

Will Congress End Marijuana Prohibition?