We might be 33 days into the government shutdown, but the work to reform cannabis laws continues. Founding Congressional Cannabis Caucus member Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, appointed two new co-chairs to the caucus on Jan. 9 and on Jan. 22, he wrote an op-ed calling on Americans to get their representatives to join him in the caucus advancing cannabis policy reforms.
However, national cannabis lobbyists warned that progress might be slow, given the fact that the government remains shutdown and tensions run high in Washington, D.C.
New Additions to the Cannabis Caucus
Oakland, California’s longtime congresswoman, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) recently took over leadership positions in the cannabis caucus from departing members Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and now-Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO). Rep. Joyce’s appointment marks the first time a member of the caucus leadership hails from a state without legal recreational marijuana.
“I’m proud to join my colleagues in leading the effort to implement responsible, commonsense cannabis policies,” said Rep. Joyce in a statement announcing his new role. “It is critical that we protect the rights of the states across the country, like Ohio, that have already done so at the state level. The federal government’s interference in this arena has stifled important medical research, interfered with doctors and patients making treatment decisions and harmed state-legal businesses.”
Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is the fourth member of the caucus and has been involved since it was founded in 2017.
A Call to Arms, or Keyboards
After bringing on new representatives to the cannabis caucus, Blumenauer released his call to action, published via a blog post for cannabis lobbying group NORML. In the post, Blumenauer addresses the recent success of adding new blood to the caucus leadership and the work still left to be done.
“As many of you know, two years ago we launched the Cannabis Caucus, a first of its kind to create a forum for elected officials to collaborate on ways to address our outdated federal marijuana laws and two weeks ago, we were proud to add Representatives Barbara Lee and David Joyce as co-chairs to our growing group,” wrote Blumenauer. “But we still have a long way to go and with your help, we will continue to expand our ranks and achieve tangible reform in this Congress.”
Blumenauer went on to call Congress “out of step with the American people on cannabis when national support for federal marijuana legalization is at an all-time high.” He cited Congress’s newest class as proof of this perspective. “We saw that clearly with several states moving toward legalization last November and a midterm election that resulted in the most outspoken and anti-prohibitionist group of freshman representatives in our nation’s history,” he wrote.
Blumenauer closed by urging supporters to share the link to a NORML-sponsored letter writing campaign across social media in order to encourage as many concerned citizens as possible to contact their members of Congress about working with the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
NORML Weighs In on the Government Shutdown
NORML Political Director Justin Strekal praised the work by Blumenauer, saying, “Lawmakers now look to his leadership for what’s next in the policy reform space… and how the federal government [will] address federal and state tension with now 47 states being out of compliance with the Controlled Substances Act.”
Strekal says through the work of the caucus, more and more members of Congress are now identifying as cannabis champions. He believes the caucus be a continually growing cycle of support that’s shown great results.
While the positive public opinion on cannabis continues to snowball, it has nowhere to hit if the government isn’t open. We asked Strekal how hard it is legalizing pot during a government shutdown, and what the future might look like when it reopens, considering the hyper-partisan tone of D.C. politics today.
Strekal says he believes a clean descheduling bill could pass the House of Representatives in the current climate, and with a little bit of constituent-driven action, that it could happen in the Senate, too. On the House side, he believes the new changes in committee leadership have moved the right people into place to make it happen — without running into the roadblocks of the past.
“We’re increasingly optimistic that the people’s House is going to have their say,” said Strekal.
But then, there’s the bad news.
“Unfortunately, due to the current shutdown and very tense political nature of D.C., it’s unlikely we’re going to see that movement in the near future. Simply because the government isn’t operational at this moment,” said Strekal.
Strekal said that it is difficult being a cannabis advocate in the current moment, given that “everything is on hold ‘till the shutdown is over.”
“It doesn’t take away from the fact every single day people are being arrested,” he added. “People are being taken to jail. People are going to court. People are being denied therapeutic cannabis. People are going to be continued to be discriminated against in terms of getting a job or housing or getting access to education.”
Strekal says through the shutdown, NORML continues to work to elevate those stories with lawmakers.
“So once the government is running again and we’re able to get the machine moving, [we hope] to hold hearings and to hold votes that will be successful on in the House of Representatives. And then, [again hopefully,] that will build the pressure on the Senate to take up the issue and force Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham to hold a hearing and force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote.”
Strekal expects the first shot at reform to come through the upcoming appropriations process. He also doesn’t expect any hearings until April, but he’s also not totally sure the government will be open by then. Here’s to crossing our fingers and leaving voicemails for our representatives until then.
TELL US, have you contacted your member of Congress about cannabis policy reform?