The cannabis legalization movement has made tremendous strides over the last two decades, creating a patchwork of legal states and federal policies that have allowed medical and adult-use programs to proceed, creating jobs, generating revenue, and increasing freedom for patients and consumers. However, as everyone in the industry knows, federal laws remain a serious obstacle for cannabis producers, processors, retailers, and ancillary businesses. Federal law prohibits exports, prevents adequate access to banking services, and can pose issues on a whole host of issues, from securing insurance to filing for bankruptcy. Today, a huge first step to ending cannabis prohibition took place in the United States Congress as the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a  hearing regarding “Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform.”

House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler stated in a release immediately following the historic hearing:

“The collateral consequences of conviction for marijuana possession—and even sometimes for a mere arrest—can be devastating.  For those saddled with a criminal conviction, it can be difficult or impossible to vote, to obtain educational loans, to get a job, to maintain a professional license, to secure housing, to receive government assistance, or even to adopt a child.

“These exclusions create an often-permanent second-class status for millions of Americans.  This is unacceptable and counterproductive, especially in light of the disproportionate impact that enforcement of marijuana laws has had on communities of color.

“It is not surprising, therefore, that over the past two decades, public support for legalizing marijuana has surged.  States have led the way with reforms, and presently, medicinal or recreational marijuana use is legal in 33 states and the District of Columbia.  However, our federal laws have not kept pace with the obvious need for change.

“In my view, applying criminal penalties, with their attendant collateral consequences for marijuana offenses is unjust and harmful to our society.  The use of marijuana should be viewed instead as an issue of personal choice and public health.”

While our progress is moving too slow, since it can be maddening that such an obvious idea has been hindered by Reefer Madness insanity and special interests that benefit from prohibition, including Big Pharma and the private prison industry, today is a great day for our movement. It is very telling that the first congressional hearing dealt more with how to legalize cannabis versus whether our nation should legalize. The Republican minority requested Neal Levine, head of the Cannabis Trade Federation, a leading lobbying effort for the STATES Act as their testifier while the Democratic majority brought in witnesses that focused on social justice and the need to end the harms of prohibition. Step by step, freedom, jobs, and revenue are on the march, and today has been a great step forward.

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