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.