Lawmakers renew push to end federal ban on marijuana
By TIm Devaney May 17, 2017
A small, bipartisan group of lawmakers is renewing a push at the federal level to legalize marijuana, calling it a criminal justice issue.
The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Garrett (R-Va.), would lift the nation’s pot restrictions and allow states to decide how to regulate medical and recreational marijuana.
Currently, states like Colorado that legalize marijuana do so in violation of federal law. This has created a confusing patchwork of pot laws around the country.
The bill, which has 11 co-sponsors, was introduced in February, and has gathered little momentum on Capitol Hill. Garrett hopes to build consensus despite indications that President Trump's administration is moving toward stronger enforcement of federal marijuana laws.
Garrett believes there are “redeeming medical uses for cannabis,” but he didn’t always feel that way.
“The first time I heard the term ‘medicinal marijuana’ 25 or 30 years ago, I probably chuckled,” he told reporters Wednesday.
Then, he began prosecuting marijuana users in Virginia.
“My background on this issue is shaped by my own experiences as a criminal prosecutor, where in fact, I did enforce the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia as they relate to marijuana, and some would say, did so quite vigorously,” Garrett said.
Eventually, Garrett grew tired of “creating criminals out of people who otherwise follow the law.” So he flipped to the other side of the issue and began fighting to legalize the drug.
“If there’s anything I cannot tolerate as a citizen and as a prosecutor, it is the unequal application of justice,” he said.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) expressed similar concerns with the current federal ban on marijuana.
“Every 42 seconds someone is arrested for the use or possession of marijuana, turning every-day Americans into criminals, tearing families apart,” Gabbard told reporters.
“The question before us is not whether you think marijuana use is good or bad, or how you feel about this issue, but whether we should be turning people into criminals,” she said.
Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which advocates against legalizing pot, criticized this “Cheech and Chong ideology.”
“The marijuana industry is the next Big Tobacco of our time, and history will not look kindly upon those who enabled lobbyists and special interest groups to gain a foothold in putting profit ahead of public health and safety,” Sabet said.
This story was updated on May 18 at 11:03 a.m.