Cannabis Decriminalization at the Federal Level: Will it Ever Happen?


Ten years ago Coloradans voted to become the first state to allow commercial sales to adults ages 18 and up with the approval of Amendment 64 which legalized recreational marijuana. Contrary to popular belief cannabis is not for sale in all cities in Colorado. Colorado Springs recently voted against legalizing recreational marijuana sales. Yet there is hope for the rest of the country.


On Tuesday, November 15th, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a bipartisan hearing to examine all things cannabis. More specifically the decriminalization of cannabis at the federal level, racial discrepancies in the criminal justice system, access to care for veterans, developments in state cannabis laws and safe banking solutions for cannabis businesses were amongst issues addressed.


Main witnesses at the hearing included (in no particular order): Keeda Haynes, Senior Legal Adviser at Free Hearts; Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML); Andrew Freedman, Senior Vice President at Forbes Tate and Executive Director of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR); Eric Goepel, Founder and CEO of the Veterans Cannabis Coalition; Amber Littlejohn, Senior Policy Adviser for the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce (GACC); Randall Woodfin, Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama; and Jillian Snider, Policy Director for R Street's Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties team.


During the hearing statistics and facts that paint a clear picture of the harm criminalizing cannabis has done to the U.S. were shared. An expungement would change more people’s lives than a pardon, especially people of color. Only 11% of banks and 4% of credit unions support cannabis companies causing many to risk unsafe alternatives. Opioid-related deaths decreased in states with legal cannabis. 40% of arrests nationwide are cannabis-related. Black people are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana (ACLU).


Now let’s talk about the extremely offensive and absurd comment from Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX). After his rant about how the CDC warns against cannabis overdoses, fentanyl and marijuana correlation and anti-cop drug jargon, he compared cannabis reformation and legalization to slavery. Fortunately Mayor Randall Woofin (D) called him out on the floor letting him know that was unacceptable: “Words matter. Putting cannabis and slavery in the same category is patently offensive and flagrant.” Congressman Clay Higgins (R-LA) shared scientific analysis that current cannabis strains are testing at 3-4,000 times that of the ‘70’s. Of course he gave no sources. Talk about reefer madness at its finest.


Cannabis reformation won’t happen overnight. And it surely won’t happen with falsehoods being spread at the congressional level. With that being said, the push for cannabis legalization is ultimately in the hands of those of us already in the industry and well-versed in solid facts about the plant and the racial inequities caused by its criminalization.


Need help navigating the new and exciting world of cannabis? RZA Legal can help with that. Schedule a consultation to learn more about our services!


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