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Tom Cotton opposes cannabis legalization at Senate subcommittee hearing


ICYMI: Cotton: The Marijuana Legalization Movement is Plagued by Misinformation

This bill would be an enormous gift to the cartels and gangs, and in the midst of a nationwide violent crime surge.

Click Here to View Senator Cotton’s Remarks in Full.

In case you missed it — Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) delivered opening remarks at a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing today entitled, “Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms.”

A video of the remarks may be found here. Text of the remarks may be found below.

Senator Cotton: The marijuana legalization movement is plagued by misinformation, much of which somehow found it into the Chairman’s opening statement. So let’s start today by examining what we are, and maybe more importantly, what we are not talking about as we examine this legislation, which should be called the “Marijuana Reparations Act.”

First, the legalization movement is not about so-called “medical” marijuana. Nearly every state in the country already has some sort of state law or program for so-called “medical” marijuana. Some of those programs are tightly regulated, others are a joke with no guardrails whatsoever. But for eight years since 2014, Congress has passed laws that prevent the Department of Justice from interfering in state medical marijuana programs, so this isn’t a question of whether someone addicted to fentanyl or in advanced stages of cancer could get marijuana to help with their affliction.

Second, the legalization movement is not about banking and financial institutions providing services for these so-called marijuana businesses, or other marijuana businesses which purport to be operating legally. Despite fearmongering to the contrary, there is no lack of available banking for marijuana businesses today. According to the Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, there are over 750 banks and credit unions that provide banking services to marijuana businesses that comply with state law.

Third, federal marijuana laws are not a racial justice issue and federal prisons are not filled with low-level, nonviolent drug possessors. Groups like the ACLU misleadingly suggest that black Americans are disproportionately targeted by federal marijuana laws. But unlike the ACLU, the numbers don’t lie: There are very few federal marijuana cases to begin with—barely over 1,000 in 2021—and more than 80 percent of federal marijuana offenders are white or Latino, and the vast majority of them are caught trafficking in southern border districts. The median penalty for these offenses is only 18 months.

Fourth and finally, the legalization movement is not about researching marijuana for potential medical purposes in the future. There is no shortage of marijuana research today. Much of that research is shedding light on the enormous negative health effects of marijuana on the human body—health effects that include heart problems, brain damage, lung damage, impaired driving, mental health disorders, addiction, and more. The danger for young Americans is especially acute.

Recent studies link use of marijuana by young people with a higher likelihood of committing violent crimes and suicide. That’s not to say there aren’t potential health benefits of marijuana-related chemicals in controlled settings. There are, for example, some drugs that use purified forms of chemicals found in marijuana and are FDA-approved and fully legal under federal law for treating things like seizures or cancer patients. But the research continues, and the DEA and the FDA have greatly expanded approvals for marijuana research.

So what is this hearing all about? The “Marijuana Reparations Act” introduced last week by the Chairman and other Democrats, like a similar bill by House Democrats, is not about research or medicine. It’s about legalizing and commercializing marijuana nationwide, eliminating federal limits on recreational use, and making marijuana much more easily available to young people, including teenagers.

Worse still, the bill would wipe clean the criminal records of illegal alien marijuana traffickers, along with gang members. By automatically expunging past marijuana trafficking convictions, it would even result in reduced sentences for repeat criminals who are serving time in federal prison for violent offenses or for trafficking other drugs like cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl. In short, this bill would be an enormous gift to the cartels and gangs, and in the midst of a nationwide violent crime surge.

When these criminals trafficked marijuana, they broke the law. Whether some find that law unfashionable or even unfair, what they did was illegal. There should be consequences, not billions of dollars in grants to apologize for enforcing the law as it is written.

After all, why is marijuana illegal under federal law? It’s simple: Because it has no accepted medical use, it’s dangerous, and it’s addictive. And that’s not my judgment or even the DEA’s judgment—that’s what the FDA found in 2016, during the administration of President Barrack Obama.

As Obama’s DEA Administrator noted in a 2016 letter, “If the scientific understanding about marijuana changes—and it could change—then the decision could change. . . .It certainly would be odd to rely on science when it suits us and ignore it otherwise.”

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today.

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