With legalization spreading from state to state, it was only a matter of time before the federal government stepped in – but whether they are helping or exacerbating the issues of prohibition remains to be seen. On Wednesday, the Senate International Narcotics Control Caucus, which is co-chaired by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), will hold a hearing titled “Marijuana and America’s Health: Questions and Issues for Policy Makers”.
Though it’s not entirely clear which questions and issues they plan to cover, there are some that have been speculated based on the list of individuals slated to speak at the hearing.
Included is Surgeon General Jerome Adams – who is very publicly against legalization, citing the “what about the kids” argument. Adams argues that a decrease in the perceived risks of smoking cannabis mean that adolescents and pregnant women are more likely to use. Similarly, Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is skeptical of studies that suggest cannabis is a safe alternative to help get past opioid addiction. However, Volkow appears open to rescheduling cannabis in order to obtain more research.
“Indeed, the moment that a drug gets a Schedule I, which is done in order to protect the public so that they don’t get exposed to it, it makes research much harder,” Volkow told a congressional committee last month.
The second set of speakers the caucus heard included four different professors from universities across the country. This includes Robert Fitzgerald of the University of California (San Diego), Staci Gruber of Harvard Medical School, Sean Hennessy of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and Madeline Meier of Arizona State University.
So, what piece of legislation has the Senate doing this research and listening to these testimonies prior to considering it?
Interestingly, it is likely the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which was approved in the House with an overwhelming vote of 321-103 in September. Back in August, Cornyn stated that he wanted to hold this hearing before the Senate voted on any bill to allow banks to service state-legal cannabis.
“While many of the members of the Drug Caucus are traditional prohibitionists, expanding the dialogue in the Senate is crucial to our ability to move legislation through the chamber,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “It is our hope that lawmakers serve as representatives of their constituents, a majority of whom oppose federal criminalization and support a regulated consumer marketplace.”
Now the Senate is looking to make numerous changes to the SAFE Banking Act before they are willing to move forward with it. However, this hearing – and the many that are sure to follow in the future – is important to help educate members of the Senate. The government doesn’t need to step in and over-regulate the cannabis industry, but it does need to step aside and allow legislation like the SAFE Banking Act to pass so the cannabis industry can operate efficiently and safely, with the same allowances as any other industry.