House panel weighs easing federal marijuana laws

House panel weighs easing federal marijuana laws
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A House panel heard from advocates for easing federal marijuana laws at a hearing on Wednesday, with lawmakers from both parties offering support for resolving the clash with state laws.

The hearing, on the racial impact of federal marijuana laws, was held before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. 

“The War on Drugs was racially biased from its inception and it has been carried out in discriminatory fashion with disastrous consequences for hundreds of thousands of people of color and their communities,” said Subcommittee Chairwoman Karen BassKaren Ruth BassHillicon Valley: Google buying Fitbit for .1B | US launches national security review of TikTok | Twitter shakes up fight over political ads | Dems push committee on 'revenge porn' law Democratic lawmakers call on Judiciary Committee to advance 'revenge porn' law Lawmakers come together to honor Cummings: 'One of the greats in our country's history' MORE (D-Calif.).

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The hearing included testimony from Marilyn Mosby, the state’s attorney for Baltimore City, as well as Dr. G. Malik Burnett, COO of Tribes Companies, a cannabis business. Both called for allowing states to set their marijuana laws and for using state revenue from cannabis sales to reinvest in minority communities they said were negatively affected by marijuana laws.

“We have to do better, the status quo is not sustainable. Drug policy in America is, and has always been, a policy based on racial and social control,” said Burnett. 

Republican lawmakers also expressed concerns with the clash between federal and state laws on marijuana. While marijuana is illegal under federal law, several states have legalized recreational or medicinal marijuana use.

Committee Ranking Member Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsHouse to vote on bill to ensure citizenship for children of overseas service members GOP lawmaker: Schiff should be first witness Republicans call to testify in impeachment inquiry Hillicon Valley: Google buying Fitbit for .1B | US launches national security review of TikTok | Twitter shakes up fight over political ads | Dems push committee on 'revenge porn' law MORE (R-Ga.) called the situation "unsustainable."

“As states have made changes to their own marijuana laws conflicting policies from various administrations has placed a burden on law enforcement and states as they implement reforms,” said Rep. Ben ClineBenjamin (Ben) Lee ClineHouse fails to pass temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran House panel weighs easing federal marijuana laws MORE (R-Va.).

“Congress must find a solution to alleviate the conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws and it’s important to evaluate the role that the federal government should play when it comes to marijuana,” he added.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle also expressed support for The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which was reintroduced in April. The bill would protect state laws regulating marijuana use and exempt cannabis business that are legal under state laws from federal prosecution by amending the Controlled Substances Act.

Currently under the Controlled Substances Act, cannabis is a Schedule One level drug; placing it in a more dangerous category than other drugs such as cocaine and fentanyl.  

Industry advocates also pushed for lawmakers to protect state laws.

“This gap between state and federal law also creates a tension for cannabis industry operators and employees who must show up to work every day knowing their activity could put them in danger of federal prosecution,” testified Neal Levine, chief executive officer of the Cannabis Trade Federation.

Levine described the economic obstacles that cannabis-related businesses experience when trying to obtain loans. Inconsistency between state and federal marijuana laws has made many banks reluctant to provide loans to cannabis-related businesses even in legalized states due to fear of federal prosecution. 

In March, the House Financial Services Committee approved legislation that would allow banks to work with marijuana businesses that are legal under state law. The SAFE Banking Act is still awaiting a vote on the full House floor.

Democratic lawmakers also used the hearing to focus on what they said were the misguided and racially discriminatory origins of marijuana prohibition. 

“The War on Drugs has been as failure, it’s been a stain on our society, our democracy, our country,” said Rep. Hakeem Jefferies (D-N.Y.). "It’s time to end it, we can begin by dealing with marijuana decriminalization."