This year has been a landmark one for federal-level marijuana reform, with the 116th Congress proving to be the most cannabis-friendly to date.
After passing an amendment to protect states which have legalized marijuana from federal interference, the House then approved a bill allowing state-legal cannabis businesses to receive financial services.
There have also been no less than seven Congressional hearings on marijuana. And all this just seven months into the session.
This wouldn’t have been possible without bipartisan cooperation, which has often been in short supply in recent times.
One Republican lawmaker, who supports an end to federal prohibition, believes that Congress’s ability to work together across the aisle on marijuana reform is now under threat.
At the Institutional Capital and Cannabis conference in Manhattan earlier this month, Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) took to the stage and shared his concern that impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump could derail federal marijuana reform.
“I think the impeachment thing is not going to be helpful to getting much done between now and November 2020, which is a shame because we have some serious issues that we need to address,” Joyce said. “I haven’t seen any facts that say whether the president will be impeached or not, but I do think that there are going to be a lot of raw nerves out there.”
Joyce believes the US is at a crucial juncture with regard to marijuana reform, as the Senate gears up to debate comprehensive proposals to overhaul the country’s cannabis laws.
He fears that tensions over impeachment proceedings could spill over into disagreements on what shape marijuana legislation should take.
One sticking point which has emerged recently concerns progressives’ insistence on the inclusion of restorative justice provisions in any marijuana reform legislation, while many conservatives prefer a simpler states’ rights and individual liberties approach.
“I think when you put too much that’s not germane on the issue—what’s called loading up the Christmas tree, eventually the tree is going to tip over,” Joyce said.
“People are like, ‘this is not what I signed up for.’ I understand what they’re talking about, the criminal justice issues, and I do think there’s a need for criminal justice reform, and they should be taken care of in a criminal justice reform bill and let this one stand on its own.”
This debate has split legalization advocates. Some think pushing narrow, limited marijuana reform legislation is the best chance of ending federal prohibition, while others think that marijuana reform without social justice provisions would be a further betrayal of those most harmed by the War on Drugs.
This dispute manifested recently when the Democrat-controlled House approved a marijuana banking bill without any such social justice provisions to the dismay of some advocates. Democratic leaders preferred instead to advance separate, broader legislation to end prohibition and further social justice issues at later dates.
NORML Political Director Justin Strekal questions how far Democratic leaders can separate the issues of marijuana prohibition from social and criminal justice.
“In just seven years, we have moved from state initiatives that ignored the reparative justice components in Washington State to those that embody them with full expungements such as in Illinois,” he said.
“This political evolution must translate to the federal level and is broadly supported by a majority of Americans, regardless of political ideology.”
Rep. David Joyce disagrees, arguing that this view comes from a misunderstanding of how the Senate works.
“The social issues will bog the issues down when it gets to the Senate,” he said.
Still, Joyce believes that complications arising from the impeachment proceedings and the finer details of marijuana legislation can and will be ultimately worked around.
All it takes is for any lawmaker to go see for themselves just what a regulated marijuana industry looks like.
“Go see what a dispensary looks like, go see what a processor looks like, go see what a grow facility looks like,” he said.
“If you can get them to do that, then you get them on the path to saying, ‘OK, now why wouldn’t you regulate this industry and why wouldn’t you let it go on like any other ongoing concern?’ Legally the state has formed a legal background to allow it to operate as an entity, so why not give it the same things you would any other business entity?”