The House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties first announced the meeting—titled “Developments in State Cannabis Laws and Bipartisan Cannabis Reforms at the Federal Level”—last week.
Staff for the panel’s Democrats and Republicans issued a joint memo on Sunday that lays out aspects of the issue to inform the discussion.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) chairs the panel, with Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) serving as the ranking member. Since leadership and the invited witnesses share bipartisan interest in advancing cannabis reform, the conversation will likely reflect that position.
Watch the panel discuss state and federal marijuana legalization in the video below:
The joint memo on the hearing mentioned several pieces of marijuana legalization legislation, including the House-passed Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, Senate leadership’s Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) and Mace’s States Reform Act (SRA).
“This hearing will be a bipartisan examination of the many benefits of decriminalization at the federal level, including: criminal justice reform, which will largely benefit communities of color, as well as the justice system more broadly; access for veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); and the ability for the legal cannabis industry to access financial services,” the 11-page memo says.
It lists the three main issues that will be raised in the panel:
1. Decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level would benefit multiple communities, including veterans, potential federal employees, people of color, and individuals arrested or convicted for non-violent cannabis offenses.
2. Reforms are needed in several sectors, including criminal justice through the expungement of non-violent cannabis convictions, access to financial services, regulatory policy, and taxation.
3. The federal government should establish protocols to regulate cannabis as it does alcohol.
Here are the witnesses that will testify for the hearing:
Randall Woodfin, mayor of Birmingham
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 (VCC)
Keeda Haynes, senior legal advisor of Free Hearts
Amber Littlejohn, senior policy advisor of Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce (GACC)
Jillian Snider, director of criminal justice & civil liberties at R Street Institute
In his testimony, NORML’s Armentano said that ending marijuana prohibition is “necessary in order to close the growing and untenable divide between state and federal cannabis laws.”
“By descheduling cannabis, tens of millions of Americans who reside in states where cannabis is legal in some form, as well as the hundreds of thousands of people who work for the state-licensed industry that services them, will no longer face needless hurdles and discrimination—such as a lack of access to financial services, loans, insurance, 2nd Amendment rights, tax deductions, certain professional security clearances, and other privileges,” he said.
Littlejohn, for her part, said that “under the threat of criminal penalty and forfeiture, the status quo of federal prohibition continues to balkanize state marketplaces and raise insurmountable barriers to entry with devastating consequences for small and minority-owned businesses.”
“Consequently, minority-owned cannabis businesses are in decline,” she said. “Black Americans bear the brunt of the disparate enforcement of cannabis laws. They also now bear the brunt of failed state policies and the devastating impact of federal prohibition on the legal cannabis industry.”
The subcommittee will also address how federal prohibition creates a barrier for military veterans who want access to cannabis treatment but can’t obtain a recommendation from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors regardless of the law in the state where they live.
That’s a topic that Goepel of VCC is especially well-positioned to address in the panel. He discussed the problem in an op-ed for Marijuana Moment last month.
Snider of R Street Institute said in her testimony for the panel that “after more than a century of prohibition, the United States is at a critical moment in determining the future legal status of cannabis.”
“Proposed federal legislation indicates increased support for alternatives to federal cannabis prohibition, and this increased support is critical to provide clarity on the overall legal status of cannabis, as the current situation presents inconsistency and a quasi-legal conundrum,” she said. “The substance may be legal in one state and decriminalized in another, but because it is still prohibited at the federal level, users or possessors of the substance are subject to criminal penalty.”
“This dual legality is problematic. It not only confuses the average citizen, but it also results in extremely varied approaches to the types and quantities of cannabis that can be cultivated or consumed; different standards for quality control; discrepancies in retail and consumer eligibility and related processes; widely varied taxation models; and a lack of consensus on the superseding status of the substance that places all of the stakeholders, including criminal justice professionals, in a gray area of compliance confusion.”
Mace, the panel’s ranking member, previously told Marijuana Moment that she had received a “promise” from leadership that SRA would be taken under consideration in the committee.
The chairman, Raskin, has also expressed interest in cannabis reform issues. For example, he filed a floor amendment to the MORE Act to require federal agencies to review security clearance denials going back to 1971 and retroactively make it so cannabis could not be used “as a reason to deny or rescind a security clearance.” That measure was narrowly defeated in a floor vote.
With respect to state-level marijuana developments, the panel will be meeting one week after the midterm elections, which saw two more states, Maryland and Missouri, vote to legalize adult-use cannabis.
This month also marks the 10-year anniversary of the first state votes to legalize cannabis for adult-use in Colorado and Washington State.
To mark the occasion, Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) recently announced that he will soon be filing a bill to direct the attorney general to create a commission charged with making recommendations on a regulatory system for marijuana that models what’s currently in place for alcohol.
The most recent House action on marijuana reform came in late September, when the Judiciary Committee approved a series of criminal justice reform bills—including bipartisan proposals to clear records for prior federal marijuana convictions, provide funding for states that implement systems of automatic expungements and codify retroactive relief for people incarcerated due to on crack-cocaine sentencing disparities.
There was also expected to be an expedited vote in the Senate on a House-passed cannabis research bill in September, but that was delayed after a GOP senator raised an objection.
Also on the Senate side, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has been working to finalize a package of incremental marijuana legislation, which is expected to include cannabis industry banking protections and expungements proposals.
Schumer recently said that Congress is getting “very close” to introducing and passing the marijuana bill, colloquially known as SAFE Plus, following discussions with a “bunch of Republican senators.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who is also a primary sponsor of CAOA, said on Sunday that, because Republicans will have a majority in the House next session, Democrats who want to enact marijuana reform must either do it “now” during the lame duck or wait until “many years from now” when his party has a shot at controlling Congress again.
Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.
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