‘Better Than Ever’ Cannabis Coalition Hits the Ground Running

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) co-chairs the Cannabis Caucus on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

In a call with reporters after November’s midterm election, US Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) predicted that 2019 would be a big year for cannabis. “The incoming Congress will be better than ever,” he said on a Nov. 7 conference call. “I think that we will continue to see more bipartisan progress.”

“It’s good to be back with Rep. Blumenauer, showing that bipartisanship can still shine.”
US Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH)

On Wednesday, Blumenauer revealed the lawmakers who will lead the charge in the nation’s capital, announcing the latest co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. The group, co-founded by Blumenauer in 2017, aims to update the nation’s drug laws to accommodate state-legal cannabis.

“The Cannabis Caucus was the first of its kind to create a forum for elected officials to collaborate on ways to address our outdated federal marijuana laws,” Blumenauer said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “Congress is clearly out of step with the American people on cannabis when national support for federal marijuana legalization is at an all-time high and we saw several states move toward legalization last November.”

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The new co-chairs are bipartisan and represent both medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis states. They are US Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Dave Joyce (R-OH), and Don Young (R-AK).

“Our movement is cresting,” Blumenauer said. “I’m looking forward to working alongside Reps. Lee, Joyce and Young to build on the bipartisan work we’ve done to end the senseless federal prohibition on marijuana once and for all.”

Bills Already in Place

A number of cannabis reform bills have already been introduced in Congress. Among them is the STATES Act, which would exempt legal-cannabis states from federal cannabis law enforcement. It’s currently seen as the leading effort to end prohibition in the US.

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But on Wednesday, Blumenauer also announced the introduction of another piece of legislation—the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act—that would remove cannabis completely from the federal Controlled Substances Act. The bill is conveniently numbered H.R. 420. (“While the bill number may be a bit tongue in cheek,” Blumenauer noted in a press release, “the issue is very serious.”)

“We must work to build an industry that is equitable and inclusive of the communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition.”
US Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)

The new Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs represent a range of bipartisan interests and views around cannabis. Two of the newly appointed leaders, Lee and Young, hail from states that already have legal adult-use cannabis programs. Joyce, meanwhile, is from Ohio, which legalized medical cannabis in 2016 and is still working to get its program fully operational. Sales there are expected to start in the coming weeks.

Lee, of California, also becomes the first woman of color to co-chair the caucus. In a statement, she highlighted the need to ensure the legalization movement benefits more than just wealthy white businessmen.

“For far too long, communities of color and women have been left out of the conversation on cannabis. I am committed to ensuring that marijuana reform goes hand-in-hand with criminal justice reform so we can repair some of the harm of the failed War on Drugs,” she said. “We must also work to build an industry that is equitable and inclusive of the communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition.”

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At a time when Washington, DC, is divided on partisan lines, the co-chairs stressed that cannabis reform is popular among Americans of vastly different ideologies, backgrounds, and beliefs.

“It’s good to be back with Rep. Blumenauer,” Joyce said, “showing that bipartisanship can still shine.”