Marijuana

'Historic' Congressional Hearing on Marijuana Legalization Highlights Strategic Differences

Should federal marijuana reform be tied to a broader "racial justice" agenda?

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During a hearing that observers and participants called "historic," a House subcommittee yesterday considered how to resolve the conflict between federal marijuana prohibition and state laws that allow medical or recreational use of the drug. Although there was broad agreement about the need for reform, the hearing before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security highlighted differences over strategy and rhetoric.

"Marijuana decriminalization may be one of the very few issues upon which bipartisan agreement can still be reached in this session," said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.). "It ought to be crystal clear to everyone that our laws have not accomplished their goals."

But Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a co-sponsor of the reform bill known as the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, questioned the wisdom of tying federal marijuana reform to the broader issue of "racial justice," as reflected in the title of the hearing ("Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform"), especially if it involves fiscal provisions aimed at compensating for the racially disproportionate impact of the war on weed. The Marijuana Justice Act that Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced in 2017, for instance, includes financial penalties for states that disproportionately arrest members of minority groups for marijuana offenses and a "Community Reinvestment Fund" that would spend $500 million a year.

"My deep concern is that concerns over how far to go on some of the restorative elements in our policy could divide our movement," Gaetz said. "If we further divide out the movement, then I fear that we'll continue to fall victim to that which has plagued other Congresses, where we don't get anything done."

One of the witnesses, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, argued that "the restorative elements" are essential. "We need to reinvest in those individuals and those communities that have been disproportionately impacted," Mosby told the committee. "The STATES Act does not do that, and that's one of the reasons why I'm opposed to it."

While the roots of pot prohibition were indisputably racist and the burdens of that policy clearly fall more heavily on people with dark skin, I tend to agree that portraying marijuana reform as a "racial justice" issue, while it may appeal to left-leaning members of Congress, will tend to alienate potential Republican allies. Playing up the federalism angle, as the STATES Act conspicuously does, is more likely to attract the Republican support that Democrats will need to get legislation approved by both houses of Congress.

Another omission from the STATES Act is more troubling: It does not actually repeal the federal ban on marijuana. Instead of removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act—a category that is supposedly reserved for drugs with high abuse potential and no recognized medical applications that cannot be used safely even under a doctor's supervision—the bill says the CSA's marijuana provisions "shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State law relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana."

Keeping marijuana in Schedule I while allowing exceptions for state-legal conduct leaves unresolved major problems created by the federal ban, including barriers to medical research and the highly burdensome tax provision that requires state-licensed cannabis suppliers to count business expenses as part of their income. It also might not fully address the reluctance of banks to serve businesses that sell a Schedule I drug.

"I've been working on this issue for 40 years, and it's just crazy that we don't just get it all done," said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.). "I appreciate Mr. Gaetz's work on the issue—and I understand incremental[ism]—but after 40 years, it's time to just zap straight up, get it all done, Schedule I gone."

Disagreements aside, the bipartisan consensus about the failure of prohibition was striking. "I've long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake, and the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) "Applying criminal penalties with their attendant collateral consequences for marijuana offenses is unjust and harmful to our society. The use of marijuana should be viewed instead as an issue of personal choice and public health."

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  1. I didn’t want to put those people in jail, but you took my money and did it anyway.

    Now, because you fucked up, you want to take my money and pay them off. Keeping in mind that you’ve already been taxing me to pay for the Drug War.

    Doesn’t sound “restorative” at all to me.

    1. You’re part of the racist system, man.

  2. Damn it; it is NOT necessary to inject spending into EVERY issue.
    All that is required is to pass a law requiring the Attorney General to FOLLOW EXISTING LAW and remove our dear friend Mary Wanna from the schedule one list, due to the fact that, as a substance with ‘proven medical uses’, it is against the law for it to be so listed.
    Not an additional dollar, just a one page, two sentence law.
    Now – get to it!

    1. Forget it, Jake, it’s Congresstown…

  3. I thought EVERYTHING was supposed to be tied to a racial justice agenda.

  4. Dr. Lonny Shavelson found that 70% of female heroin addicts were sexually abused in childhood.

    Post USA Civil War alcoholism was called “the soldiers disease”

    Addiction is a symptom of PTSD.

    1. Post USA Civil War alcoholism was called “the soldiers disease”

      No it WAS NOT. Morphine addiction was the soldiers’ disease. Common sense ought to wake you upt o this. Alcoholism had been around for millenia, long before the USA Civil War.

      I’ve called you out on this before. Looks like you keep pasting in the same nonsense.

  5. The use of marijuana should be viewed instead as an issue of personal choice and public health.

    One of those is not like the other. One of those is a continuing excuse for government meddling. One of those will get us back into the same trouble by a different back door.

  6. I thought Albert Einstein put this whole thing to bed when he observed that “No problem can be solved at the same level of awareness that created it.”

    First, they violated the Constitution by deciding for us what we can and cannot put in our bodies.

    Then they compounded the crime by taxing us to pay for the enforcement of the laws they passed.

    Now they want to “fix” the outcomes of the problems they created by conflating the consequences of one set of terrible actions (The War on Drugs) with those of another, completely different set of unconscionable actions (The Great Society/War on Poverty).

    These people shouldn’t have authority over a warm cup of urine, much less be permitted to make any decisions that affect actual living, breathing, human beings.

    If we just assume that anything these people want to do in this Clown World is insane and do the opposite, we’ll be correct far more often than not. Just sayin’.

  7. Take it off Schedule I and forget the ‘restorative’ part.

    1. That’s not how Washington works. Money has to change hands. Someone’s palm has to get greased.

      1. Well, clearly something should get greased – – – – – –

  8. These social justice fucks are going to ruin war on drugs reform just like they ruined criminal justice reform by bringing race into it. Not surprising considering how these two issues are inextricably linked.

    Fucking retards.

  9. it’s a plant. free everyone.

  10. It’s disgusting that Mr. Nadler doesn’t realize his statement is even more true if you replace ‘marijuana’ with any other drug. There’s been zero progress on real drug policy reform. The newest drug panic is playing out just like the last one. All of the movement on pot is because it’s less harmful than alcohol, not because anyone has changed their mind that prohibition is just a dandy policy if a drug is dangerous.

    1. This is true. And despite 100+ years of prohibition we have a worse problem with opioids now than we ever had. Probably worse than any society has ever had.

      1. And the opioid problem is only going to get worse, because some varieties are hundreds of times more potent than others, and there’s no way to tell them apart. Thousands are going to take the stronger variety thinking that it’s a weaker variety, and die as a result. The current opioid death epidemic is primarily hitting college educated, white collar women between 35 and 50… it’s not a “junkies in gutters” problem.

  11. “Playing up the federalism angle, as the STATES Act conspicuously does, is more likely to attract the Republican support that Democrats will need to get legislation approved by both houses of Congress.”

    Hmmm…if I were cynical I’d suggest that getting a bill through Congress is *not* on the Democrats’ priority list, especially if it means giving up the chance of some good old racial demagoguery.

    “”We need to reinvest in those individuals and those communities that have been disproportionately impacted,” Mosby told the committee. “The STATES Act does not do that, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m opposed to it.””

    Wait, she actually wants to continue the federal War on Pot unless there’s a federal payoff to her “community”?

    If it’s a racist policy like she claims, shouldn’t the first priority be to stop doing it?

    1. “Fork over the cash. Then I’ll agree to stop assaulting the community.”

  12. Legalize marijuana?
    What a terrible idea.
    Do you know how many drug cartels members you’re going to put of business?

    1. “There’s too much money in it.”

  13. If pot legalization degenerates into another campaign of racial garbage, forget it. I’m not interested.

    1. I’m sure congress is taking note of your disinterest.

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  15. Here’s the naked core of American leftism: They acknowledge that marijuana laws have led to tremendous injustice, AND THEY WANT THE INJUSTICE TO CONTINUE UNTIL THEY GET A PAYOFF!

  16. […] probably will. At a congressional hearing earlier this month, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) plausibly worried that “concerns over how far to go on some of the restorative elements in our policy could […]

  17. […] probably will. At a congressional hearing earlier this month, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) plausibly worried that “concerns over how far to go on some of the restorative elements in our policy could […]

  18. […] probably will. At a congressional hearing earlier this month, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) plausibly worried that “concerns over how far to go on some of the restorative elements in our policy could divide […]

  19. […] probably will. At a congressional hearing earlier this month, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) plausibly worried that “concerns over how far to go on some of the restorative elements in our policy could […]

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