The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing yesterday titled “Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform” and heard testimony on the disparate impact of marijuana criminalization on minority communities. This was the first hearing of this type in U.S. history, and the fact that it occurred at all suggests an increasing appetite in Congress to tackle marijuana reform, consistent with the desires of American voters. Below are some highlights from the hearing:

  • In her opening comments, Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-CA) stated: “The war on drugs was racially biased from its inception and has been carried out in a discriminatory fashion with disastrous consequences for hundreds of thousands of people of color and their communities.”
  • Tom McClintock (R-CA), the acting ranking member of the subcommittee, said that marijuana decriminalization “may be one of the very few issues upon which bipartisan agreement can still be reached in this session” and that it “doesn’t require endorsing cannabis.”
  • Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) examined the history of marijuana. Rep. Nadler remarked that cannabis is one of the oldest agricultural commodities and is used for medicinal purposes all over the world. He noted that criminalization is only a recent phenomenon, fueled by misinformation and racially biased stereotypes. “Applying criminal penalties with their attendant collateral consequences for marijuana offenses is unjust and harmful to our society … The use of marijuana should be viewed as an issue of personal choice and public health,” according to Rep. Nadler.
  • Four witness advocated for criminal justice reform and the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. Marilyn Mosby, the State’s Attorney for Baltimore, Maryland, spoke passionately about her city: “I am here today because there is no better illustration of this country’s failed ‘War on Drugs’ than the city of Baltimore, MD.” Her office announced in January that her office would no longer prosecute cannabis possession cases.
  • David L. Nathan, founder and president of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, testified that while marijuana is not harmless, physicians agree that it is less harmful to adults than both alcohol and tobacco. He noted that heavy cannabis use has a chance to adversely affect brain development in minors, which underscores the need for a legal distinction between adult-use cannabis and cannabis use by minors, such as with alcohol and tobacco.
  • Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, spoke about the cannabis industry. He highlighted the economic growth and tax revenue gained by states across the country, as well as the tension between state and federal cannabis laws. He also expressed frustration with the cannabis industry’s inability to access banking services and described the resulting problems.
  • Lastly, Dr. G. Malik Burnett advocated for policy reform with the concept of “restorative justice as a guiding principle,” citing California’s, Illinois’s, and Massachusetts’s efforts to promote social justice and community reinvestment through their respective cannabis laws.

We will continue to monitor federal developments and post updates on this blog. If you would like to watch a video of the hearing, follow this link: