A bill that would do away with federal marijuana restrictions has been given a renewed push by a small bipartisan group of lawmakers.
Originally introduced by Rep. Thomas Garrett (R-Virginia) in February, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act would leave medical and recreational marijuana policy up to states.
As it currently stands, 29 states have codified some form of medical marijuana legalization into law, and eight states have legalized recreational use. The U.S. Justice Dept. continues to pursue enforcement of federal marijuana laws in those states however, in violation of the 10th Amendment.
The bill has received little support in Washington. Its renewed push comes on the heels of Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructing federal prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” against drug traffickers.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Garrett said that along with taking marijuana off the federal controlled substances list, his bill “allows for industrial hemp growth,” and would provide a much needed economic stimulus to agricultural and hemp production in states across the Country.
“I have long believed justice that isn’t blind, isn’t justice,” said Garrett. “Statistics indicate that minor narcotics crimes disproportionately hurt areas of lower socioeconomic status.”
Garrett is seeking a consensus with other lawmakers surrounding an issue that has long plagued civil liberties advocates. One of those lawmakers is cosponsor Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).
Joining Garrett at Wednesday’s press conference, Gabbard maintained that “every 42 seconds someone is arrested for the use or possession of marijuana.”
This is “turning every-day Americans into criminals, tearing families apart,” she said. “The question before us is not whether you think marijuana use is good or bad, or how you feel about this issue, but whether we should be turning people into criminals.”
Part of the reason lawmakers have been reluctant to support a bill like Garretts hinges on the vast amounts of money redistributed from taxpayers and given to constituent supporters that comprise groups like police unions.
Part of this process involves the Dept. of Defense’s 1033 program which has transferred $5.1 billion in military hardware including helicopters and airplanes, armored trucks and cars, tens of thousands of M16/M14 rifles, thousands of bayonets, mine detectors, and many other types of weapons to local police departments since 1997.
The ALCU has said that the militarization of police and utilization of tactics like SWAT team raids have been disproportionately used against drug offenders. Their report, War Comes Come, looked at 818 SWAT incidents carried out by more than 20 law enforcement agencies from July 2010 to October 2013.
The study found that the majority of SWAT team deployments, 62 percent, were for drug searches.
“Law enforcement agencies are increasingly using paramilitary squads to search people’s homes for drugs,” the report said. “Neighborhoods are not war zones and our police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies.”
According to Drug Policy Alliance, federal and state governments have spent over $1 trillion on the drug war over the past four decades. The Office of National Drug Control Policy has said that federal drug war spending alone eclipsed $15 billion in 2010, a rate of about $500 per second.