A group of bipartisan congressmen featuring two Republicans and two Democrats discussed marijuana law reform efforts on Tuesday with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Representatives Justin Amash (R-Mich), Tom Garrett (R-Va.), Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) have all been outspoken in their efforts to end the criminalization of marijuana. The congressmen discussed the federal government’s interference in allowing states to uphold their own laws, along with the support of marijuana legalization continuing to rise.
In February, Garrett introduced the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017,” which aims to remove marijuana from the controlled substance list.
And he also began to focus on what he seemed to think was one of the more troubling aspects of the war on drugs.
“I have long believed justice that isn’t blind, isn’t justice,” Garrett said Tuesday. “Statistics indicate that minor narcotics crimes disproportionately hurt areas of lower socio-economic status and what I find most troubling is that we continue to keep laws on the books that we do not enforce. Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California.”
“This step allows states to determine appropriate medicinal use and allows for industrial hemp growth, something that will provide a major economic boost to agricultural development in Southside Virginia,” Garrett added. “In the coming weeks, I anticipate introducing legislation aimed at growing the hemp industry in Virginia, something that is long overdue.”
Amash acknowledged that while Attorney General Jeff Sessions disagrees with their stance on legalization and intends to enforce current federal law, he believes Sessions will allow states to create their own marijuana policy if Congress passes legislation to end federal prohibition of the drug. Amash also stated that he believes President Trump would sign any bills that would relax current marijuana laws.
In 2013, Blumenauer and Rep. Jared Polis co-authored “The Path Forward: Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy,” and focuses on the history of marijuana prohibition in the United States.
“Marijuana policy at the state level has shifted significantly in recent years as states have moved to legalize the drug for both medicinal and adult use,” Blumenauer’s website reads. “Unfortunately, federal marijuana policy remains rooted in the past, as all types of marijuana continue to remain illegal under federal law.”
“It is time for Congress and the Administration to face the facts surrounding marijuana, its use and regulation, and develop a legislative framework that accounts for the inevitable transition of marijuana policy – one that is already well under way,” he continues. “Federal marijuana policy should be modernized to reduce confusion, uncertainty, and conflicting government priorities. Maintaining the status quo creates an inconsistent legal environment that wastes law enforcement resources and misses out on potential tax revenues.”
Blumenauer said during the discussion that the states where both marijuana legalization and Donald Trump were on the ballot, there were “far more” votes for marijuana than for Donald Trump.
O’Rourke argued that the laws “disproportionately” impact communities of color throughout the nation.
“The generations of lives, the lost potential, productivity […] the great novels unwritten, the injustice rendered […] that can be corrected,” O’Rourke said, referencing Garrett and Blumenauer’s efforts to relax marijuana laws.
Garrett highlighted his time as a prosecutor, adding that it goes without saying that a person of color accused of an offense should be treated with the same respect under the law as a white offender.
“There’s some truth to the saying that our drug laws are the new Jim Crow,” O’Rourke argued.
“An African American young man in Manhattan is fifteen times more likely to get arrested. It’s a stunning disparity,” Blumenauer said, adding that the consequences for an African American were always greater than that for a Caucasian.
The points made by the congressmen harkened what former Republican congressman Ron Paul highlighted concerning racism and the drug war all the way back during his Libertarian bid for president in 1988:
Before the 20th Century there was none of that and it was the medical profession as well as many other trade groups that agitated for the laws. And you know there’s a pretty good case made that this same concept was built in with racism as well. We do know that opium was used by the Chinese and the Chinese were not welcomed in this country. We do know that the blacks at times use heroin, opium and the laws have been used against them. There have been times that it has been recognized that the Latin Americans use marijuana and the laws have been written against them. But lo and behold the drug that inebriates most of the members of Congress has not been touched because they’re up there drinking alcohol.
You can find the full text of Congressman Garrett’s bill here.