At Historic Bipartisan Subcommittee Hearing, Witnesses Emphasize Widespread Benefits of Cannabis Decriminalization
Washington, D.C. (Nov. 15, 2022)—Today, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, held a bipartisan hearing to examine the many benefits of cannabis decriminalization at the federal level.
“Decriminalizing cannabis would benefit a lot of communities, including especially people of color, individuals incarcerated for non-violent offenses, veterans, and federal employees. It will also benefit the small businesses operating in states where cannabis has already been legalized by providing access to banking services—they will no longer have to operate on a cash only basis which is obviously dangerous and makes them ready targets for criminal gangs,” said Chairman Raskin in his opening statement.
“The only place where cannabis reform is unpopular is here in the Halls of Congress,” said Rep. Nancy Mace, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, in her opening statement. “It’s time for the federal government to catch up with the states and bring an end to outdated and oppressive policies. We are committed to ending scheduling and restoring integrity to our criminal code. Our vets, our kids, and our economy are counting on us, and we won’t let them down. Many thanks to Chairman Raskin for allowing us to hold this landmark hearing today.”
The Subcommittee heard testimony from Randall Woodfin, Mayor of the City of Birmingham, Alabama; Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws; Andrew Freedman, Executive Director of Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR); Eric Goepel, Founder and CEO of Veterans Cannabis Coalition; Keeda Haynes, Senior Legal Advisor of Free Hearts; Amber Littlejohn, Senior Policy Advisor for Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce; and Jillian Snider, Policy Director of Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties, R Street Institute.
Members and witnesses discussed how decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level would improve treatment options for veterans and help address the racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
- Mr. Goepel explained how descheduling cannabis would benefit the veteran community: “Because veterans are in that special quandary being a population that receives federal healthcare, there is no other option other than descheduling. Because without descheduling you are still criminalizing some forms of possession and denying veterans the access that they need.”
- Asked by Rep. Ayanna Pressley about achieving racial equity by expunging convictions for marijuana related convictions, Ms. Haynes responded: “By automatically expunging these convictions … so that we no longer have to live in the shadows in our community [and] will be able to help us secure jobs … will help us to secure housing, will help us to be able to get into the marijuana business if one so chooses. And just various other things that will help us be able to regain our rights. To vote, to participate in our democracy fully in this country.… It is extremely important that it is automatic expungement[.]”
- In response to a question from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about the difference between expungements and pardons, Mayor Woodfin responded: “Pardons, as you know, are at the executive level—so presidents, governors, and mayors—and it allows us to set aside penalties or, if one is actually incarcerated at any level city, county jail, state or federal, that they can immediately be released. But the expungement is extremely important because that’s more at the judicial level, and even if you pardon me, if I apply for a job for instance, the record that I was [charged]—this can still be on my record but more importantly the arrest, so the expungement through the judicial process allows a person’s entire record to be concealed, that’s not only the actual charge but also includes the arrest.”
Witnesses described how the federal cannabis prohibition produces significant barriers such as lack of access to financial services, inconsistent regulatory requirements, and increased taxation on cannabis products and businesses.
- In response to a question from Chairwoman Maloney on how decriminalization of cannabis can improve banking services and regulation for the industry, Mr. Armentano explained: “Banks and other financial institutions and credit unions are largely discouraged from working with cannabis industry related business that are licensed at the state level by the simple fact that cannabis remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance. They are worried that at some point in time they may run afoul of federal law and be prosecuted for things like money laundering.” He added, “Currently, only about 11% of banks and 4% of credit unions are willing to provide services to the thousands of state licensed cannabis businesses.”
- Mr. Freedman testified: “Common-sense public health and public safety issues such as banking, such as insurance, and even things like proper pesticide use, none of those things can really be addressed because they’re all overseen by the federal government, unless we’re dealing with the world of descheduling.”
- Rep. Nancy Mace asked Ms. Littlejohn for policy recommendations that would reduce illicit markets, to which she responded, “Allowing individuals and legal companies to compete … [in interstate commerce] with tax rates that are actually reasonable.”
Members and witnesses concluded that the federal government should establish protocols to regulate cannabis as it does alcohol—including by removing cannabis from the list of controlled substances.
- In response to a question from Chairman Raskin Raskin about the comparison between past liquor prohibition and the marijuana prohibition, Ms. Snider stated: “Once it is more morally acceptable or more societally acceptable by consensus, people agree to legalize and regulate it. We’re starting to see that with cannabis.” She continued: “That is what I was seeing on the street as a police officer. It’s not looked at as taboo as it once was.”
- In response to a question from Rep. Robin Kelly regarding what Congress should do to effectively regulate the cannabis market, Mr. Armentano testified: “Our experience with alcohol shows us the way, and when we look at the balance that currently exists between the powers and regulatory authority states have with regard to the way they regulate the commerce of alcohol within their state and we balance that with the role the federal government plays with regard to the interstate commerce and production of alcohol. The way it’s marketed nationally, the way it’s labelled is obviously uniform. But the way individual states treat alcohol in many ways is very unique.”