Congress moves forward on cannabis proposals

As the United States Congress continues on the path towards impeachment, a common refrain from those opposed is that all the fuss is keeping Congress from doing its actual job: legislating. That's not been the case when it comes to cannabis.

Last week Congress acted twice to move forward with a more sensible federal policy on marijuana. On Friday, Dec. 6, Democratic Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey introduced a resolution that would radically transform the war on drugs, which Watson Coleman's resolution explicitly calls out as racially charged. That same day, a bipartisan group from the House and Senate sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr requesting a policy change in how the federal government regulates cannabis research.

Neither action is a brand new idea. Rep. Watson Coleman introduced a similar resolution last year, but it went nowhere.

Republicans are no longer in control of the House of Representatives, which gives Rep. Watson Coleman's resolution a greater chance of passing a floor vote this time around. Should it pass, Congress will declare the war on drugs to be a failure and immediately halt any actions that further the current goals of the war on drugs. The congressional view on drug use would change from criminal-focused to a public-health approach.

It is similar to the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act), which passed through the House Judiciary Committee last month. The MORE Act goes further by decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level while Rep. Watson Coleman's resolution does not.

The other action undertaken last week is basically Congress giving the Drug Enforcement Administration a kick in the pants.

In September the DEA announced it would allow for the production of more marijuana available for scientific research than ever before. The problem is, there's still only one federally approved manufacturer of research-grade marijuana: a farm at the University of Mississippi.

In the letter, lawmakers are calling for the DEA to allow federally approved researchers to study marijuana obtained from state-approved producers. Essentially, it would allow the scientific community to study the same marijuana that people actually consume.

The DEA has been talking about expanding the amount of marijuana available for research for years, but has taken little substantive action. This letter requests a response from the DEA by Dec. 20.

Congress often comes across as a dysfunctional place where nothing gets done. Broadly speaking, that might be true. When it comes to marijuana, though, lawmakers have been working harder than ever. ♦

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