Lawmakers debate decriminalizing marijuana at federal level

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Recreational marijuana is legal in nearly half of U.S. states, but it remains illegal at the federal level.

Members of a House subcommittee on Tuesday debated if marijuana should be decriminalized nationwide and if some marijuana convictions should be expunged if marijuana becomes legal at the federal level.

Reforming marijuana laws had overwhelming bipartisan support on the subcommittee, including from the Chairman and Ranking Member.

“The war against marijuana has ruined so many lives,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

“The only place it’s controversial is here in the halls of the Capitol,” said Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee.

Currently, 21 states plus Washington D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana and 37 states allow marijuana for medical reasons.

“Congress has failed to implement sensible cannabis reform,” said Amber Littlejohn, Senior Policy Advisor for the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce.

According to lawmakers on the subcommittee, marijuana arrests account for 43 percent of all drug arrests, with most being simple possession charges.

While white and Black people use marijuana at roughly the same rate, Black people are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for violating marijuana possession charges.

“I urge this committee and Congress to go beyond decriminalization and repair the damages that have been done,” said Keeda Haynes, a Senior Legal Advisor for Free Hearts.

While support for decriminalizing marijuana had bipartisan support, one Republican Congressman pointed to concerns about potential harm.

“Marijuana and drugs are crippling,” said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX). “They cause addiction. They cause crime.”

In response, supporters of marijuana reform pointed to the data.

“How many deaths have there been from marijuana overdoses?” Rep. Mace asked.

“So, I don’t believe the CDC, DEA, NIDA or any other federal agency has ever directly associated a fatal overdose with cannabis,” said Eric Goepel, Founder and CEO of Veterans Cannabis Coalition.

“So, that means zero,” reiterated Mace.

Our Washington News Bureau asked Paul Armentano, Deputy Director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), if he believes Congress will be successful in passing bipartisan legislation to decriminalize marijuana federally.

“It’s hard to say,” said Armentano. “If facts, cultural opinion, public opinion, science was driving this train, we would already have a very different cannabis policy than the one we have now in this country.”

The House passed a bill decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level.

A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate, but its chances of passing remain unclear.