A Republican representative from Virginia introduced a bill recently that would end the federal restriction on cannabis use and permit states to fully set their own course on cannabis policy. The measure aims to remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act and resolve the existing problem between state and federal laws over recreational or medical use of the substance. It would not legalize the sale and use of cannabis in all 50 states. It would permit states to make their own decisions on cannabis policy without the threat of federal interference.
Representative Thomas Garrett, R stated, “Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California.” Currently neither the medical or recreational uses of cannabis are allowed in Virginia. The proposal specifies that transporting cannabis into states where it is illegal would continue to be a federal crime. Cannabis is presently a Schedule 1 controlled substance at the federal level, meaning the federal government considers the drug to have a “high potential for abuse” and “no medically accepted use.” However, more than half the states have set their own policies permitting either recreational or medical use of cannabis.
Garrett’s proposal is similar to legislation introduced in 2015 by Senator Bernie Sanders. That measure didn’t receive any co-sponsors, nor did it get a Senate hearing. Representative Tulsi Gabbard has already signed on to Garrett’s bill, as have Representative Scott W. Taylor and Representative Jared Polis. Conservatives and law enforcement groups have commonly been among the biggest skeptics of easing cannabis laws. As a Republican and a former prosecutor, Garrett might seem like unlikely for cannabis reform.
The legislator frames the issue as both about states’ rights, and creating jobs. He recently said, “This step allows states to determine appropriate medicinal use and allows for industrial hemp growth, something that will provide a major economic boost to agricultural development in Southside Virginia.” One group that provides information services to the cannabis industry estimates that the legal marijuana industry could be worth $24 billion by 2020 and create 280,000 jobs. In Colorado alone, cannabis sales surpassed $1.3 billion last year.
In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration reviewed the federal classification of cannabis and chose not to ease restraint on the substance. Congress has shown increasing interest in attacking cannabis policy issues in recent years, to the extent that there is now an official Congressional Cannabis Caucus. However, the most important piece of cannabis legislation coming out of Congress in recent years was a budget rider prohibiting the Department of Justice from interfering with state-level marijuana laws.