Yesterday, May 17, Virginia Fifth District Congressman Tom Garrett announced more details of his bill, H.R. 1227, “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017” which he introduced in Congress in February. He updated the crowd of advocates and reporters with more on the hoped-for success of the bill that is going forward now with a host of new co-sponsors.
The bill, which the congressman says is similar to a bill by Senator Bernie Sanders that floated around briefly in Congress in 2015 (some say there is no real difference between Garrett’s bill and Sander’s bill), seeks to specifically remove marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinoids from the federal schedule of controlled substances and leave regulation up to the individual states. “Senator Sanders had an identical bill,” Garrett says. “I know that because my legislative staff poached the bill. All we really changed was the spelling of marijuana. His bill spelled it ‘marihuana,’” Garrett says.
Garrett’s bill enjoys wider bipartisan support today than when introduced, now co-sponsored by seven Democrats and four Republicans, including the original two sponsors: Democrat representative from Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard; and Republican representative from Virginia, Scott Taylor. Four new co-sponsors have joined just since the beginning of April.
Garrett chose this day because two marijuana events garnering national attention were occurring simultaneously in D.C.: lobby days by the National Cannabis Industry Association, and the Marijuana Business conference at National Harbor. This is a big week for cannabis in D.C., and Garrett wanted to make sure that his bill got some of the spotlight. “This is a very, very important initiative,” Garrett says. “This is the federal deregulation of marijuana. This is not decriminalization.”
Garrett was a criminal prosecutor in Virginia, and said his views were shaped by that experience. “I enforced the laws of the Commonwealth,” he says. “But I cannot tolerate, either as a citizen and a prosecutor, the unequal application of justice.”
He said that he believes that when a person is sent to Washington to represent constituents, and identify a problem, steps should be taken to solve the problem. “That is why we stand here today,” he says. “What we see here early on is a sort of personal liberty coalition that defies party identification, which I think is nice for a change.”
He says that what drove him to champion this bill is the issue of law enforcement. “We now have a situation where federal laws are enforced in some states and not enforced in other states,” Garrett says. “It’s unconscionable. I fear that my colleagues in Congress have been so afraid to point out the 800 pound gorilla in the room that we have all engaged in a conversation about how lovely the emperor’s clothes are. But the reality is we live in the unequal application of the law.”
He says that he is working with the committee of jurisdiction for his bill, which is the judiciary committee. Their subcommittee will be the first test of the bill. “If we hit critical mass in that subcommittee, and ask for a vote in the subcommittee, then do the same thing in the full committee and get a critical mass there, then get the bill out to the floor, I think it will pass. And it will pass with a bipartisan majority,” he says. “Right now it’s strategic as to when we try to push it. And we want to know we have the votes before we do it.”
Appearing with Garrett were mothers of two children who suffer from epilepsy, and have to break federal law to get CBD oil to treat their children. “This is the issue I got into politics for,” Garrett says, pointing to the two mothers. “You can write a bill, you can lobby a bill, but you can’t hug a bill. Doing the right thing is why I do this. And if it costs me politically, than I will go out knowing that I have been true to myself. It’s a pretty good gig.”