4/20: Will Congress advance marijuana legislation in 2019?

4/20: Will Congress advance marijuana legislation in 2019?

The prominence of 4/20 as a cultural phenomenon is indicative of the growing acceptance of marijuana legalization by the public, pundits and even among an increasing number of politicians.

While states continue to blaze the trail forward with regard to the regulation of the legal medical and adult-use marijuana markets, lawmakers in D.C. should take note. This is because nearly every member of Congress represents a state that is out of compliance with the federal policy of blanket marijuana prohibition.


As of this writing, members of Congress have introduced five separate bills to end the federal prohibition of marijuana. In addition, there are also more than half a dozen bills pending before Congress that seek to restrain the federal enforcement of cannabis prohibition in states that have reformed their marijuana laws.

One of these proposals, The Marijuana Justice Act, removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, expunges federal cannabis criminal records, allows for the potential re-sentencing for federal charges, and reinvests cannabis tax revenue in local communities that have been hardest hit by the failed war on drugs.

Further, the legislation would restrict federal funds from states that continue to enforce marijuana criminalization in a racially disparate manner. To date, there is not a single state that arrests Americans for cannabis related infractions in a non-racially disproportionate manner, according to the ACLU.

Another measure, the bipartisan Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act allows states the power and flexibility to establish their own marijuana policies free from federal interference. This legislation first made waves in 2011, when it became the first bipartisan bill since 1937 to end federal marijuana prohibition, and has been reintroduced multiple times since then.

New House Judiciary Committee Chairmen Jerry NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerJudiciary Committee chairman Nadler dismisses Kavanaugh impeachment calls Nadler: Trump impeachment needed 'to vindicate the Constitution' Words matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump MORE has been a co-sponsor of several previous efforts to reform federal marijuana laws, and recently affirmed that during an unrelated hearing, “[W]e may be discussing that fairly soon.” House members of the House Financial Services Committee have already taken action — recently marking up a bill (The SAFE Banking Act) to provide a safe-harbor for banks to provide basic services to state-legal cannabis businesses. It’s expected that this bill would move to the House Floor in the coming months.

But as these federal reform efforts move forward, we must not lose sight of the fact that hundreds of thousands of marijuana-related arrests are continuing to be made annually by state and local law enforcement. Police made 659,700 marijuana-related arrests in 2017. That’s nearly six percent of all arrests nationwide, up from just over three percent in 1995. Of those arrested for criminal marijuana violations, 91 percent were charged with possession only, not trafficking, growing, or engaging in sales.

That is why many states have, and many more continue, to take the lead on this issue. Thirty-three states, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico have enacted legislation specific to the physician-authorized use of cannabis. Moreover, an estimated 73 million Americans now reside in the ten states where anyone over the age of 21 may possess cannabis legally. An additional 13 states have passed laws specific to the limited possession of cannabidiol (CBD) oil for therapeutic purposes.

To date, these statewide regulatory programs are operating largely as voters and politicians intended. The enactment of these policies have not negatively impacted workplace safety, crime rates, traffic safety, or youth use patterns.

They have stimulated economic development and created hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenue. Specifically, a recent report published by Leafly.com estimates that over 211,000 Americans are now working full-time in the cannabis industry. Tax revenues from states like Colorado, Oregon and Washington now exceed initial projections.

When The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) was founded in 1970, only 12 percent of the public was on record in support of marijuana legalization. Today, according to the most recent General Social Survey poll, published March 19th, 61 percent of Americans are in favor of legalization.

The public now overwhelmingly believes that the mere consumption of cannabis should not lead to a loved one being arrested or adversely affected by discriminatory housing, educational, or policing policies. It’s time for Congress to amend the federal law in a manner that reflects these values.

Justin Strekal is the political director for NORML, where he serves as an advocate to end the federal prohibition of marijuana and to reform our nation's laws. In his role as NORML’s federal lobbyist, he focuses on moving lawmakers towards evidence-based solutions that comport with analogous substances as the United States prepares for a substantial public policy shift in regards to cannabis.