The US House of Representatives Held A ‘Historic’ Hearing on Marijuana Laws

Yesterday, a group of Members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held a hearing on the future of marijuana laws in the United States.

Called “Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform”, the hearing saw a group of representatives from both parties including Ted Lieu (D-CA), Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY), Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) talk about possible policy options for moving forward from the War on Drugs. As Rep. McClintock pointed out, “marijuana decriminalization may be one of the very few issues upon which bipartisan agreement can still be reached in this Session".

That said, any changes to legislation would have to pass through the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he has no plans to endorse cannabis legalization.

The hearing was called “historic” by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), who noted that it was "the first time in decades that members have explicitly entertained debate regarding the need to end the federal criminalization of cannabis”. 

Committee Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-CA) used her opening statement to show the necessity of reforming America’s cruel and outdated drug laws, saying:

The War on Drugs was racially biased from its inception and it has been carried out in a discriminatory fashion with disastrous consequences for hundreds of thousands of people of color in their communities. Today, nearly 80% of people in federal prison and almost 60% of people in state prison for drug offenses are black or Latino.

The committee then heard from four witnesses: Marilyn Mosby, city attorney for Baltimore; Dr. David L. Nathan, founder of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation; Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, and Dr. G. Malik Burnett, COO of Tribe Companies. You can watch the hearing below:

To coincide with the hearing, an alliance of advocacy groups called The Marijuana Justice Coalition released a Statement of Principles to guide legislators as they endeavor to change the laws. "The nation has moved beyond the question of ‘should we legalize marijuana?’," reads the statement, "and is now grappling with 'how do we legalize?'"

The Coalition - made up of NORML, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Watch, the Drug Policy Alliance, and many more - calls for descheduling cannabis, criminal justice reform (expungement for example), and many more social justice initiatives. "Ending prohibition," reads the statement, "on the federal level presents a unique and desperately needed opportunity to rightfully frame legalization as an issue of criminal justice reform, equity, racial justice, economic justice, and empowerment, particularly for communities most targeted by over-enforcement of marijuana laws."

You can read the full statement here.

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