A new milestone bill, brought forward by a bipartisan coalition on March 7, 2019, would remove cannabis from the federal controlled substances list. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2019, introduced by Reps Don Young (R-AK) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), would give states the freedom to legalize marijuana without federal interference.
Cannabis was classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Schedule I substances have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” That means that even if states legalize it, it remains illegal under federal law.
The proposed legislation prevents the federal government from interfering with state-level efforts to legalize medical or recreational marijuana.
Young and Gabbard announced the bill outside the Capitol on Thursday.
“Our archaic marijuana policies – based on stigma and outdated myths – have been used to wage a failed War on Drugs. Families have been torn apart, communities left fractured, and over-criminalization and mass incarceration have become the norm,” Gabbard said.
“In 2017 alone, our country arrested 600,000 people just for possession of marijuana. Our bipartisan legislation takes a step toward ending the failed war on drugs, ending the federal prohibition on marijuana, and ensuring that our policies are guided by facts,” she added.
Another result of descheduling marijuana from the controlled substances list is that it would make it easier for businesses to open accounts and get bank loans. Currently, many banks are hesitant to provide financial services to the cannabis industry as federal laws make them vulnerable to money laundering charges.
“As businessmen, the biggest challenge they have is not being able to bank,” said Young in a statement. “This bill takes care of it.”
Erik Altieri, the Executive Director of NORML, a non-profit advocacy group, also spoke outside the Capitol.
“The Ending Federal Prohibition Act is about acknowledging political, scientific, and economic reality. Marijuana legalization is here to stay and it is time that federal policy reflect that,” Altieri said. “This legislation is effective in its simplicity, it will deschedule marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and end federal prohibition once and for all, full stop.”
The bill mirrors part of the Marijuana Justice Act, introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) in February. His bill focuses on incentivizing states to legalize cannabis by providing them with federal funds.
In addition to the bill ending federal prohibition, Young and Gabbard reintroduced the Marijuana Data Collection Act of 2019. The aim of the legislation is to research the impact of state programs legalizing medical and recreational marijuana. It would focus on investigating how legalization affects state revenues, public health, criminal justice, employment, and substance abuse.
“This bill will allow us the opportunity to make sure we are governed by the truth and facts and not misinformation and lies,” Gabbard said.
Gabbard, who announced her presidential bid for the 2020 election, is one of a number of female politicians at the forefront of the battle for reform of marijuana-related laws.
The legislative process to legalize cannabis has garnered unprecedented voter support in recent years, with 58% of Americans in favor of full legalization and 70% believing that states should be free to decide their own marijuana policy, according to a 2018 Quinnipiac University poll. Currently, 33 states, Washington, DC and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico allow medical marijuana, while 10 states and Washington, DC have legalized recreational use.