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Marijuana reform legislation gaining bipartisan support in Congress

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Our States Newsroom colleagues at the Florida Phoenix  are reporting that the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security advanced the cause of bipartisan marijuana law reform this week. The story highlighted the fact that conservative Trump Republicans are, increasingly, joining with progressive Democrats to support marijuana decriminalization and legalization efforts. This is from reporter Allison Turner’s story:

Six U.S. Reps from Florida – Democrats Charlie Crist, Al Lawson, Darren Soto and Ted Deutch, along with Republicans Matt Gaetz and Greg Steube – have signed on to bipartisan legislation to overhaul federal marijuana laws.

The U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held a congressional hearing on the issue this week. The hearing, which marijuana legalization advocates called historic, focused on racial disparities in marijuana laws.

Gaetz, who represents the Pensacola area,  urged his fellow lawmakers to view reform as a multistep process, starting with the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which would protect states’ rights to enact their own marijuana policies without federal interference.

Gaetz and Florida U.S. Reps. Steube and Crist are original co-sponsors of the legislation, and Lawson, Soto and Deutch have also signed on to the bill.

The STATES Act legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate in each of the last two sessions of Congress. Last year, the only North Carolina lawmaker to sign on as a co-sponsor was Republican Walter Jones, who died late last year. The new version features 56 co-sponsors (38 Democrats and 18 Republicans) in the House and nine (five Republicans and four Democrats in the Senate, but none from North Carolina.

As Turner reported, this week’s hearing represented an historic event:

[Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project] says that comprehensive reform is needed, but until then, she says, the proposed federal STATES Act would be “far better than nothing.”

Even holding a congressional hearing on the issue is “a huge, huge step forward,” O’Keefe said. “It’s wonderful that Congress is finally taking a serious look at how unequally marijuana laws have been enforced, including that prohibition was borne out of racism. It’s great to hear members of Congress on both sides of the aisle looking for a path forward that doesn’t criminalize people for using a substance that’s safer than alcohol.”

Though subcommittee members disagreed over the details, they voiced a rare degree of partisan unity over the general call for federal marijuana reform.

Though none of of the 15 members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation is a co-sponsor of the STATES Act, the Cannabis Voter Project reports that all three of the state’s Democratic members — Representatives Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield and David Price — have  previously taken stands in favor of liberalizing marijuana laws.

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