A new bill introduced by a freshman Republican representative would end federal marijuana prohibition and allow states to dictate marijuana policy.
A Virginia lawmaker has introduced legislation that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana use and pass policy decision responsibilities onto states. Earlier this month, Rep. Thomas Garrett (R-Va.) introduced the Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017 (H.R. 1227), which if passed would decriminalize marijuana and remove the cannabis plant from the Controlled Substances Act entirely. Individual states would then be able to make their own policies regarding marijuana.
“Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California,” said Rep. Thomas Garrett, in a statement.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) introduced an identical bill in 2015, but it failed to receive any co-sponsors or a Senate hearing. Garrett’s bill has already obtained three co-sponsors – Rep. Tulsa Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Rep. Scott W. Taylor (R-Va.) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo) – indicating there is now greater interest among lawmakers to change federal law.
In regards to his bill, Garrett said that, “this step allows states to determine appropriate medicinal use and allows for industrial hemp growth, something that will provide a major economic boost to agricultural development in Southside Virginia. In the coming weeks, I anticipate introducing legislation aimed at growing the hemp industry in Virginia, something that is long overdue.”
Recent reports project that the U.S. cannabis industry, currently growing faster than the dot-com boom of the 2000s, will balloon to $24 billion by 2025 and generate more than a quarter of a million jobs by 2020.
Garrett’s bill is in response to recent indications from the White House of a possibly looming federal crackdown on states that have passed marijuana legislation. Marijuana remains categorized federally as a Schedule I substance, but eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized adult use marijuana, and 28 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing marijuana for medical purposes. During his confirmation hearings, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that if legislators didn’t want a federal crackdown, they should change the laws accordingly.
“The U.S. Congress made the possession of marijuana in every state – and the distribution – an illegal act. If that’s something that’s not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule,” Sessions said in February.
Quinnipiac recently found that 71 percent of American voters oppose the federal government cracking down on marijuana businesses that follow state law. Ninety-three percent support legalizing medical marijuana and 59 percent support legalizing cannabis for recreational purposes.
Garrett’s state of Virginia has yet to legalize adult use or medical marijuana, though it did pass a highly restrictive and conservative cannabidiol (CBD) law in 2015 that allows limited access for those with epilepsy. State lawmakers have already introduced marijuana legislation in 2017. One bill that would decriminalize recreational possession is being met with heavy opposition, but lawmakers seem to be open to another that would expand Virginia’s medical marijuana law.
“I have long believed justice that isn’t blind, isn’t justice,” Garrett said, in reference to his bill. “Statistics indicate that minor narcotics crimes disproportionately hurt areas of lower socio-economic status and what I find most troubling is that we continue to keep laws on the books that we do not enforce.”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers, referring to itself as a “Cannabis Caucus,” has also introduced legislation to change federal marijuana laws, including the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, which calls for the end of federal prohibition and allows for states to determine cannabis laws. Garrett has said he anticipates his bill will also receive bipartisan support.