U.S. lawmakers weighed reforming pot laws in what advocates called a “historic” hearing Wednesday, with numerous members of Congress saying they wanted to loosen federal laws, even legalize marijuana.
“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., adding “it ought to be crystal clear to everyone that our laws have not accomplished their goals.”
Eleven states have legalized adult recreational use and a majority of Americans support legalization. A number of bills are on the table that would reform federal marijuana laws. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security sought input on how to reform federal laws in a hearing Wednesday titled “Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform.”
“There is a growing consensus in this country that current marijuana laws are not appropriate and we must consider reform,” said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. “Today’s hearing is a first step in that process.”
Despite the optimism, lawmakers did not appear to have a clear consensus on the best approach, such as whether to give states the right to legalize on their own, remove marijuana from schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, legalize it or include promote social and racial equity in marijuana laws.
The STATES Act is among the most popular cannabis bills. It would amend the Controlled Substances Act and exempts state-approved marijuana activity from federal enforcement.
Proponents say the legislation would eliminate federal concerns in states where marijuana is legal. Yet some say the bill does not go far enough because it does not address any racial or social concerns.
“We need to reinvest in those individuals and those communities that have been disproportionately impacted [by marijuana prohibition],” Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby told the committee. “The STATES Act does not do that, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m opposed to it.”
Malik Burnett, Chief Operating Officer of multi-state cannabis operator Tribe Companies and former cannabis policy advisor, warned lawmakers that while white people are making money in the growing industry, minorities in other parts of the country are impoverished because of drug policy. Representatives asked for suggestions on policies to combat this.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a co-sponsor of the STATES Act in the House, urged lawmakers to support the bill even though it does not go as far as some would like, saying it could be a first step toward legalization.
“My deep concern is that concerns over how far to go on some of the restorative elements in our policy could divide our movement,” he said.
Justin Strekal, political director of the marijuana advocacy group NORML, applauded the subcommittee for holding the hearing.
“Today was a historic day in the fight to end federal marijuana criminalization,” he said in a statement. “Members of both political parties demonstrated a desire to reform our nations failed policy of prohibition and the only disagreement was how, not if.”
But even if reform gains momentum in the Democratically controlled House, it’s likely to face a tougher battle in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes marijuana legalization.