With a passionate, pun-laden statement, Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch became the latest in a line of conservative Republicans in the legislative branch to support marijuana reform. Last month, Senator Orrin Hatch announced that he would be introducing the Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act (MEDS ACT).
The bill is notable for its support from moderate Republican Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Senator Hatch’s announcement is of particular importance to the marijuana movement as it shows that one of the most conservative senators, representing one of the most conservative states in the United States, is willing to embrace reform.
And Senator Hatch isn't the only one joining the legalization movement. Here are some other notable conservatives who have come around to cannabis.
California’s Conservative Cannabis Crusader
Senator Hatch is by no means the first mainstream conservative to embrace marijuana reform. California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has long been a conservative voice for reform in the Republican-controlled House. He has also brought conservative leadership and insight into the recently formed Congressional Cannabis Caucus with Republican Congressmen Don Young of Alaska, Democrat Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, and Democrat Jared Polis of Colorado. Congressmen Rohrabacher has also introduced the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017” to the house.
He has also lent his name to the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment — a federal budget rider that has protected medical marijuana patients and businesses since 2014 thanks to bipartisan support for medical cannabis in the House.
Unfortunately, the House Rules Committee chaired by Texas Congressman Pete Sessions (R) recently blocked the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment from the latest federal spending bill. The move was particularly notable since Attorney General Jeff Sessions (no relationship to Congressman Session) asked Congress to refrain from renewing these medical marijuana protections in a letter written earlier this year.
Thankfully the amendment’s legal protections were extended until December 2017 thanks to the Senate’s own proposed budget. However, a joint committee between the House and Senate must still incorporate the amendment into the final federal spending bill. And there are no guarantees that the amendment will survive these negotiations.
However, with leading Conservatives in both chambers now championing marijuana reform, and the unconscionable consequences of failing to pass such reform, odds are good that congress will do the right thing in the end.
Critical Mass in Congress
The issue of marijuana reform is reaching critical mass in Congress. In the House, 67 of the 240 Republican representatives and 167 of the 194 Democrats are cosponsors of the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment, giving the rider a solid majority in the lower chamber. Numerous other Republican congresspeople have introduced proposed reforms to marijuana laws in the House and the Senate such as:
- Virginia Congressman Tom Garrett's “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017”
- Virginia Congressman Morgan Griffith's “Compassionate Access Act of 2017” and “Legitimate Use of Medical Marijuana Act of 2017”
- Kentucky Congressman James Cormer's “Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017”
- Kentucky Senator Rand Paul's Senate version of the “Small Business Tax Equality Act of 2017”
And those are just the bills introduced by Republicans. Democrats have put forth many of their own cannabis bills. With so much bipartisan support from both moderate, liberal, and conservative lawmakers, marijuana reform is reaching a critical mass on Capitol Hill.
And while Congress has repeatedly failed to act on issues such as healthcare reform, military spending, boarder security, immigration policy preforms, minimum wage, infrastructure, veteran issues, war authorization, criminal justice reform, and tax reform, the issue of marijuana shines as one of the few areas where there is truly consensus on the issue.
Call, Communicate, Commend
If you support marijuana reform, you need to contact your federal representatives and let them know you are a constituent that supports sensible marijuana policy. If you are lucky enough to have a representative who is carrying a bill, or is a co-sponsor, a phone call or email commending them on their work is a simple but powerful affirmation of support.
If your representative does not support reform, has actively hindered proposed reform, or has not taken a stance on reform, then letting their office know you support reform is all the more critical. It is also important to remember who opposes reform when the next midterm elections come around. Congress doesn't agree on much, but if a representative is still fighting marijuana reform at this point, then they are woefully out-of-touch.
A recent poll shows that 94 percent of Americans support medical marijuana. It's time for lawmakers to heed the will of the people.
Hunter J. White is the Communications Director of the national Republican political organization, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, or RAMP, a Non-Profit 501-c3 organization dedicated to the complete repeal of marijuana prohibition in all its forms. In this series of articles, Hunter shares the challenges, experiences, and insights that he has gained from years of working to bring marijuana policy reform to the Republican Party.