Drug Policy

On Drug Policy Reform, a Dozen Republican Congressmen Get an A+ (and 136 Get an F)

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Office of Dana Rohrabacher

What do Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) have in common? If you follow drug policy, it probably won't surprise you to learn that they all rate A+ grades in a new voter guide that scores members of Congress based on their votes for reform. A bit more surprising: So do 45 of their colleagues in the House, including 10 additional Republicans: David Schweikert (Ariz.), Duncan Hunter (Calif.), Paul Broun (Ga.), Justin Amash (Mich.), Kerry Bentivolio (Mich.), Walter Jones (N.C.), Mick Mulvaney (S.C.), Mark Sanford (S.C.), Steve Stockman (Texas) and Tom Petri (R-Wis.).

Drug Policy Action (DPA), the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, based its grades on seven votes (see list below) dealing with issues such as hemp cultivation, medical marijuana, and banking services for state-legal cannabusinesses. To earn an A+, a representative had to vote in favor of reform all seven times. In addition to the 49 members who rated an A+, 116 got an A (six votes), 33 got a B+ (five votes), 14 got a B (four votes), 31 got a C (three votes), 23 got a D (two votes), and 141 got an F (one or zero votes). The rest did not have sufficient voting records to be graded. The lowest-rated group consists almost entirely of Republicans, as you might expect, but there are also five Democrats who merited an F: Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), John Barrow (Ga.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Jim Matheson (Utah), and Nick Rahall (W.V.).

Office of Andy Harris

The failing congressmen include Andy Harris (R-Md.), John Fleming (R-La.), and Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), whom DPA describes as "drug war extremists." Harris distinguished himself by doggedly trying to prevent Washington, D.C., from decriminalizing marijuana possession. DPA describes Fleming as "a committed foe of marijuana reform efforts," known for "distorting and misrepresenting the facts about marijuana use in hearings, floor speeches and briefings" (here, for example) and for "taking to the floor to speak against floor amendments that would support states' rights to reform their marijuana laws, improve access to medical marijuana and improve the ability of states to regulate marijuana businesses." DPA highlights Rogers' resistance to federal funding for "syringe service programs that save lives and reduce health care costs by preventing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C." Although such subsidies are not exactly libertarian, Rogers' opposition to them is driven by prohibitionist orthodoxy rather than any principled belief in limited government, as his support for the war on drugs clearly shows.

It is encouraging that the "drug war extremists" in DPA's report are far outnumbered by the 10 "champions of reform" (including Rohrabacher, Blumenauer, Massie, and Polis) and the 23 legislators receiving "honorable mentions" for sponsoring or cosponsoring reform legislation as well as voting for it. Important bills that have not gotten a vote include the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, which would make federal prohibition inapplicable in states that legalize cannabis; the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act, which would protect financial institutions that serve state-licensed marijuana businesses from criminal prosecution, regulatory penalties, and loss of deposit insurance; and the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would make crack sentence reductions retroactive, cut the mandatory minimums for various drug offenses in half, and expand the "safety valve" for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. Bills that not only got a vote but were approved by the House include Rohrabacher's amendment aimed at stopping the Drug Enforcement Administration from undermining medical marijuana laws; an amendment sponsored by Rohrabacher, Denny Heck (D-Was.), Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) that aimed to stop the Treasury Department from punishing banks for doing business with state-legal marijuana growers or sellers; and an amendment sponsored by Massie, Polis, and Blumenauer that approved pilot hemp cultivation projects, which made it all the way through Congress.

Here are the seven votes that DPA counted in legislators' favor:

1. Yes on an amendment to H.R. 1947 allowing colleges and universities to grow and cultivate industrial hemp in states where it is already legal without fear of federal interference (passed the House, 225 to 200; also passed the Senate).

2. Yes on an amendment to H.R. 4660 that would have cut the DEA's budget by $35 million (rejected by the House, 339 to 66).

3. Yes on an amendment to H.R. 4660 that would have barred the Justice Department and the DEA from spending money to undermine state laws that allow hemp cultivation (passed the House, 237 to 170). 

4. Yes on an amendment to H.R. 4660 that would have barred the Justice Department and the DEA from spending any funding to undermine state medical marijuana laws (passed the House, 219 to 189).

5. Yes on an amendment to H.R. 4660 that would have barred the DEA from blocking implementation of the federal law allowing hemp cultivation research (passed the House, 246 to 162).

6. No on an amendment to H.R. 5016 that would have prevented the Justice and Treasury departments from implementing their guidance to financial institutions that serve state-licensed marijuana businesses (rejected by the House, 236 to 186).

7. Yes on an amendment to H.R. 5016 that would have barred the Treasury Department from spending any funding to penalize financial institutions that provide services to state-legal marijuana businesses (passed the House, 231-192). 

The DPA guide includes a handy table toward the end that shows how your representative voted and the grade he or she received.

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  1. Hey! Mine got an F!

    1. So did mine– the idiotic Frank Lucas.

  2. A dozen out of a 150 or whatever sucks. That said, what was it ten years ago? Zero or close to a I bet. We have been waging the drug war for a hundred years. It is very entrenched. It is going to take a long time to get rid of it.

    Maybe I just have low standards, but 20 years ago I don’t think any incumbent member of Congress would have gotten better than a D on this issue. Now a dozen of them get an A+. That is progress.

    1. The big deal is that a majority of the House voted the correct way on 6 of these 7 bills. That’s huge. There’s a working majority for drug war reform.

      Harry Reid’s Senate ensured that only 1 of the 6 got a vote, and the only reason that one did is because Mitch McConnell insisted on it as hemp is a bipartisan Kentucky issue.

      The Senate didn’t vote on anything this last term. Even bipartisan bills like this, or the patent reform. Not even bring them up for a vote to see if someone one filibuster.

    2. And don’t forget Jeff Merkley, the fist sitting US Senator to call for full state legalization. So I agree, we are turning the corner on this dark time in our nation’s history.

    3. The War on Drugs gives pols too much arbitrary money/power to go away.

    4. 10 years ago there was Rohrabacher and Ron Paul. That’s probably about it for republicans.

  3. I don’t think it’s fair to grade Debbie W-S on the same curve as other people.

    1. I don’t think it’s fair to grade Debbie W-S on the same curve as other people.

  4. Good to see Rohrabacher and a few Republican pols are waking up on this issue. It’s absolutely necessary, but a lot of progress still needs to be made.

    It’s too bad Rep. Rohrabacher also gave us this canard:

    “The Reagan Doctrine of assisting local, pro-freedom insurgents to overcome tyrannical regimes was then and is today the most effective way of defending against an enemy that threatens our safety.”

    For an interesting criticism of this claim see this piece by Daniel Larison: http://www.theamericanconserva…..-the-past/

    1. He is right. The Reagan doctrine worked and stopped communism in Central America without getting the US into a Vietnam like war there.

      It is difficult to beat an ideology like communism or radical Islam by just fighting conventional wars against it. You can really only beat it by giving people threatened by it the ability to fight for themselves. And that takes assistance, especially when the other side is getting funding and arms from outside. It is hard enough to fight fascists in any circumstances since they are utterly fanatical and willing to engage in any tactic necessary to win. Give the fascists outside help and it is impossible.

      1. John, you are certainly looking at this with rose-colored glasses. I agree that limited interventions and proxy wars are generally superior to full-scale ground invasions, but they do have destabilizing effects on the local region and the groups receiving support usually aren’t “pro-freedom”. We may not bear the human costs for increased violence, but others do. These decisions should not be made lightly.

        I also struggle to see how civil conflicts in the weak nations of Central America or in the Middle East are a serious/significant threat to our national security.

        Communism as practiced by the USSR and China until 1980 turned out to be unworkable. That is ultimately why it failed. Not because of unconventional warfare.

        1. agree that limited interventions and proxy wars are generally superior to full-scale ground invasions, but they do have destabilizing effects on the local region and the groups receiving support usually aren’t “pro-freedom”.

          I argue based upon a similar contention. I’m not sure that neverending meddling is any better than all-out war.

        2. We may not bear the human costs for increased violence, but others do.

          Blaming America for the “Increased violence” brought about by the actions of Communist governments is absolutely disgusting and what I’d expect of an anti-libertarian like you.

          1. I wasn’t talking about Communist governments really. My contention was that interfering in civil wars/conflicts via direct or even indirect means (e.g., arming rebels, air support, etc.) will likely prolong a conflict and/or increase its severity. Americans may not be in danger of immediate physical harm under such circumstances, but it doesn’t mean it is right or worthwhile for us to deploy our military resources in this way.

            1. Sure it will prolong the conflict. You problem is that you assume that is automatically a bad thing. You know what shortens a conflict? Surrendering to the side that is there to kill or enslave you. That ends a conflict really quickly.

              Sending aid to Britain in 1940 most certainly prolonged the conflict in Europe by helping Britain keep the Nazis from invading. By your logic that was the wrong thing to do.

              This is what people like you don’t get, sometimes peace cannot be had a price worth getting it. You people just can’t grasp that idea and think peace will always be a good thing over war. When your enemies are fanatics there to kill and enslave you like the fascists and communists were, peace under there terms is a very bad thing and much worse than war.

              1. Nazi Germany presided over the third largest economy in the world (I think Britain was in the top 5 as well) at the time, possessed advanced military capabilities, and had already proven itself to have ambitions beyond its borders. Very different circumstances from the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Bad actors or groups in these states pose a much smaller threat to our national security and/or core economic interests.

                Also, why stop with Nazi Germany in 1945? Why not fight to prevent the USSR from dominating countries like Poland? Would you have supported that?

                Your viewpoint is also very black-and-white. Can most violent conflicts easily be boiled down to good guys and bad guys?

          2. How much of the increased violence was because we supported dictators which gave rise to revolutions where they got support from the USSR?

            It is ridiculous to pretend there were good guys and bad guys and we always supported the good guys.

            How many murders did Somoza order versus Ortega?

      2. It was successful only if you call the creation of MS-13 a success.

      3. It was successful only if you call the creation of MS-13 a success.

      4. The entire Cold War for the US was an exercise in stupidity and waste. While there was some logic to protecting western Europe the rest of it was mindless reaction by politicians too stupid and gutless to say to the American people that such and such a shit hole isn’t worth one US dollar or life.

        They forgot some basic tenants of warfare:

        Never interfere with an enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.

        Both the US and USSR got nothing from their overseas adventures and it weakened both of us. Why didn’t we just let them have those shit-holes? Certainly them being in Afghanistan is better than us being there.

        There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare – and we see it in this country everyday. Where would be be if we hadn’t wasted money on Vietnam and other proxy wars and spent far less on a surface navy whose only use is in bullying third world countries.

    2. That wasn’t a canard. That was a brilliant, low-cost solution that helped end the Cold War and bring about real peace. Not the faux-peace people like you favour, but real peace.

      Interesting note: Rohrabacher was one of the few warning Reagan and everyone else about the dangers of Sunni Islamism from the ’80s onward. He was totally right. Go to his website there’s some incredible stuff.

      1. How would you know what I favor? What’s the difference between “faux-peace” and “real peace” in your view? It’s difficult to respond if I do’t know where you are coming from.

        Again, it appears that most of the support given to “pro-freedom” fighters only had a negligible/small impact on ending the Cold War. The Soviet Union had been founded on an ideology that was never entirely followed and very destructive. It was built on and maintained through the extensive deployment of coercive force. When Gorbachev pushed reforms that curtailed these severe restrictions, the entire foundation collapsed.

  5. Amash! You magnificent bastard!

    1. Does he have a book?

  6. If you don’t like drugs, don’t use them.

  7. Hal Rogers is a grade-A turd, repeatedly sent back to Congress by a gaggle of white trash sub-morons in the longest-running game of “stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself” in the state.

    Ever seen Justified? That’s his constituency.

    1. Please. Boyd would have that guy snuffed before he even got to run.

    2. Well, we know he won’t be able to count on Dewey and Daryl Crowe’s votes any more…

  8. If the U.S. electorate had half-a-brain, we’d all agree to make Thomas Massie our President in a landslide. Probably won’t happen. I half expect to end up with President Camacho.

    1. It would be worth it if we could at last experience “The House of Representin'”.

  9. Really? 12 A+’es? So there have been at least 12 bills introduced to abolish the DEA and drug scheduling and remove all criminal penalties for drug possession or distribution at the federal level?

    1. I have to agree

      I don’t think A+ means what Reason.com thinks it means

      1. Drug Policy Alliance. Not Reason. Learn to read, Dunphy.

    2. Assuming you’re referring to the number of letter grades, really only 7 votes would be required for an A+ to be plausible. Which is, coincidentally, the number of votes this is based on.

    3. They grade on a curve.

  10. Suggestion to Drug Policy Alliance :

    part of the grading should be if somebody is for making birth control pills available over the counter.

  11. WTF is there even such a thing as a federal “drug policy”? Of course, you could say that about 90% of what the government is involved in – any number of those alphabet government agencies.

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