Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a war veteran, member of Congress representing Hawaii and candidate for the 2020 presidential nomination, has teamed with Alaska Republican Representative Don Young to introduce the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2019.
The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act is a companion bill to one already introduced by Democratic senator and 2020 presidential candidate Cory Booker, who represents New Jersey. Gabbard is seen as a populist progressive while Booker is seen as a corporate “centrist,” but ironically, Booker’s proposal goes even further than the Gabbard-Young proposal because it offers federal funds as an incentive for states that reduce marijuana legal restrictions. Booker’s proposal would also erase previous federal marijuana convictions and fund reparations for individuals and communities affected by mass incarceration due to the war on marijuana.
Gabbard’s legislation would remove cannabis from the federal “schedule” of prohibited drugs altogether. Cannabis is currently in “Schedule One,” along with heroin and LSD. The Schedule One designation comes with the official assumption that cannabis has no medical value and is a very dangerous drug. For years, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has had control over whether cannabis was removed from Schedule One and placed in a less restrictive schedule, or totally removed from the federal government’s list of “controlled substances.” The DEA has constantly resisted attempts to reclassify or remove cannabis from the list.
Because cannabis is still illegal federally, all state legalization is technically illegal and could be stopped by the federal government. This is what former Trump U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened beginning with Trump’s election and continuing until Trump fired him because Sessions refused to shut down the law enforcement investigation seeking to determine if Trump colluded with Russian intelligence agencies and Vladimir Putin to hack the 2016 American presidential election.
“Our archaic marijuana policies — based on stigma and outdated myths — have been used to wage a failed War on Drugs,” Gabbard says. “Families have been torn apart, communities left fractured, and over-criminalization and mass incarceration have become the norm. In 2017 alone, our country arrested 600,000 people just for possession of marijuana. Our bipartisan legislation takes a step toward ending the failed war on drugs, ending the federal prohibition on marijuana, and ensuring that our policies are guided by facts and the truth.”
Currently, 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use; at least 30 states have made marijuana legal for medical use. And yet, hundreds of thousands of people are arrested for marijuana possession every year, with nearly 700,000 arrests in 2017.
Young, who represents a state that has already legalized marijuana and which just became the first state to allow Amsterdam-style cannabis on-site consumption, said it’s time for the feds to get their hands off of cannabis policy.
“I am a passionate supporter of a states’ rights approach to cannabis policy. For too long, the federal government has stood in the way of states that have acted to set their own marijuana policy, and it is long past time Congress modernized these outdated laws. Since Alaska legalized marijuana, I have heard from many constituents — including small business owners — who have been impacted by archaic federal marijuana policy that criminalizes them for selling marijuana-derived products otherwise legal under state law,” Young explained.
Because cannabis is federally illegal, banks can be penalized for providing accounts or business loans to cannabis entrepreneurs. This has locked cannabis industry people out of the financial markets, forcing many of them to engage in a risky, inconvenient cash-only business. It has also limited investment capital options. Cannabis seed sellers, hydroponics equipment manufacturers and sellers, cannabis dispensaries and other cannabis industry participants have been reluctant to be transparent about their involvement with cannabis growing, processing, and selling…because they’re worried about federal law enforcement.
“As businessmen, the biggest challenge cannabis entrepreneurs have is not being able to bank,” he said. “This bill takes care of that and this bill is long overdue. This is a bill that solves a problem. Get the federal government out of it.”
Gabbard and Young also introduced the Marijuana Data Collection Act, which would mandate periodic reports on the impact of state legalization policies on the economy and public health. “This bill will allow us the opportunity to make sure we are governed by the truth and facts and not misinformation and lies,” Gabbard said.
Gabbard said that her proposal isn’t for stoners and weed sellers only, but is meant to address social and criminal justice inequities caused by the drug war. Drug prohibition disproportionately affects low-income people and people of color, who are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession despite similar use rates in the black and white communities. In her home state of Hawaii, Gabbard said, federal marijuana laws created such a strain on the prison system that thousands of inmates prosecuted merely for possessing cannabis had to be shipped to prisons on the mainland United States.
“The bottom line is, our policies need to make sense for our people and our country,” she said. “They should not cost our economy and society and criminal justice system billions every year. We must end the federal prohibition on marijuana now.”
Earlier this year, a much-less progressive cannabis law was introduced by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). They introduced S. 420, an extensive bill aimed to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Democrat Earl Blumenauer. Both men represent the state of Oregon.
Nobody knows yet if any of these proposed cannabis legalization laws could make it through both houses of Congress and end up on the desk of President Donald Trump. Consistent with the contradictory dishonesty he has displayed throughout his political career, during the 2016 campaign Trump said he’d respect state marijuana legalization. But as soon as he won the presidency, he nominated long-time cannabis hater Jeff Sessions to be America’s top law enforcement official (Sessions became head of the Department of Justice, and Attorney General).
Opinion polls consistently show that 60-70% of Americans favor cannabis legalization. Given Trump’s massive political scandals and the numerous investigations into his alleged collusion with Putin and illegally using the presidency to benefit his business interests, signing a law that federally legalizes cannabis would be a good public relations move for the embattled president.
If Gabbard’s proposal becomes law, however, it doesn’t mean that recreational and medical cannabis are immediately and fully legal in all 50 American states. Each state would retain the right to create its own cannabis laws, with no interference from the federal government.