Cannabis Reform: Is Congress Listening?

Driven by the Drug War, over 749,000 people were arrested in 2012 in the United States for marijuana-related offenses alone, thus bringing the nation’s prison population to be nearly ten times as high as countries in Western Europe. As thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens continue to be put behind bars each year, it is clear that marijuana prohibition has caused far more problems for the nation than it resolves. While the public and many state leaders have jumped on the bandwagon for cannabis reform, the federal government has notoriously been lagging behind on the issue. However, marijuana is having a very good year in Congress so far. The following are some of the ways federal politicians are now working to accommodate popular state laws in an effort to drive cannabis reform on a national level.

Formation of a National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy

On April 18th, Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced a new federal legislation to create a National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy, which would be given the responsibility of reviewing how federal policies should interact with state laws that are legalizing marijuana for medical and/or recreational usage. Regardless of personal views on cannabis, politicians are stepping behind the motion to ensure the federal government can further understand the effects of current federal policies and address conflicts with state laws on marijuana. Since the issue is only expected to grow over the coming years, the National Commission on Federal Marijuana Policy could play a prominent role in making sure citizens and businesses are not caught in the web of current incompatible legislation in the future.

Introduction of the ‘Respect State Marijuana Laws Act’

As both parties in Congress started coming together in defense of states’ rights to legalize marijuana last year, Congresswoman Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) introduced the ‘Respect State Marijuana Laws Act’ with a bipartisan coalition of three other Republicans and three Democrats. In an effort to amend the federal ‘Controlled Substances Act,’ the new legislation seeks to excuse federal prosecution for individuals and businesses who are legally complying with established state marijuana regulations. As a result, the federal government no longer can take legal action against or even meddle with cannabis-related activities in states that have already devised systems for legalizing pot.

Passing of the ‘Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act’

Nearly one year after Representative Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) introduced the bill in an effort to give state-legal marijuana businesses proper access to banking services, the ‘Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act’ was passed with a 231-192 margin in favor of the law. Not only is the legislation designed to address the lost tax revenue associated with legal regulated cannabis businesses operating in a cash-only system, but it also intended to provide assurance to financial institutions that they would not be criminally prosecuted for marijuana-related transactions in legal states. Perlmutter stated that the act would convince financial institutions that taking on marijuana businesses as clients would not lead to prosecution for drug-money laundering in the federal government.

Congress Votes to Defund Federal Medical Marijuana Raids

On May 29th, Congress reached a historic vote that ended federal raids on medical marijuana patients and their caregivers who are simply complying with state laws by a 219-189 margin in favor of the defunding. In particular, the vote determined that the Department of Justice, especially the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) would no longer be allowed to use federal funding to prevent states from carrying out their own medical marijuana laws. Since the majority of states now have medical marijuana laws on the books, Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Far (D-CA) lead a bi-partisan coalition to provide that Congress is ready to step back to allow states to determine their own medical marijuana laws without any fear of federal prosecution standing in the way.

Development of the ‘Industrial Hemp Farming Act’

Due to the fact that the United States is currently the only developed nation on the globe that does not allow cannabis as an industrial crop, Congress has established measures to develop an ‘Industrial Hemp Farming Act’ to amend the ‘Controlled Substances Act’ to enable commercial cultivation of industrial hemp. The legislation is structured to give state governments the authority to create regulations on the commercial production of hemp as an agricultural product for industrial growth. Although efforts to attach this act as an amendment to the Senate Farm Bill were completely unsuccessful, leaders in Colorado, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia have already created amendments to classify industrial hemp as a distinct agricultural commodity to allow commercial production.

Efforts to Legalize Marijuana by the Federal Government

As the most recent Gallup polls show that 80% of Americans support the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and 58% favor legalizing marijuana, the highest percentage of U.S. citizens are now standing behind cannabis reform nationwide. While there is still plenty of work to be done in Congress for marijuana is legalized, measures are being taken each day to reach this eventual milestone in cannabis reform. In fact, the ‘Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act’ has already been introduced in hopes of moving to the next stage of allowing retail cannabis production and sale.

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