Dear Pot Lawyer,
Congress is in favor of protecting state cannabis programs, right? So why don’t they?
Yes, most representatives in Congress—both Democrats and Republicans—support the protection of state-legal cannabis for medical and adult use. In that sense, they are like most Americans. The main reason that state cannabis programs don’t get solid protection, however, is because Congress is not allowed to vote on proposed amendments related to cannabis. Keep in mind that it’s Congress’ job to vote on these amendments. If you are confused by that, you should be. It’s the craziest thing.
Before the House of Representatives votes on nearly any measure, it must pass through the House Rules Committee. That committee is chaired by Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX). Pete Sessions is not related to Jeff Sessions, but he shares our Attorney General’s retrograde views on weed. For this reason, Sessions’ panel has consistently blocked all cannabis proposals from advancing to the floor for a vote. This includes a good number of bipartisan proposals over the past few years.
Before Pete Sessions began his blockade, cannabis amendments were sailing through committee, and the House was enacting good laws. The last time the full House voted on weed, for example, it allowed VA doctors to make medical cannabis recommendations to veterans. That was in 2016. Before that, the House approved measures to increase pot business’ access to banks and to protect state industrial hemp programs. And back in 2015, a sweeping proposal to protect all state programs from federal interference lost by just nine votes, 206 to 222. Views have changed drastically on this issue in Congress since then—that measure would easily pass today.
But Pete Sessions is not interested in public opinion, statistics, or science, and he is not going to change his ways. Last month, he gave a bonkers speech, calling cannabis businesses “merchants of addiction” and spinning anecdotes about drug-addicted Boy Scouts. According to Sessions, a Boy Scout he knows of went to college and “fell into heavy drug use that started by smoking marijuana.” It’s like the old reefer madness stuff.
Ultimately, the situation with Sessions is an example of democracy not functioning correctly. An obscure person on an obscure committee is frustrating the legislative process through parliamentary nonsense. At the end of the day, Congress is unable to pass basic legislation that most Americans favor. In that sense, it’s no different than infrastructure proposals, which are constantly batted about the legislature, or gun laws, which, oh wait... no one is doing anything about that.
But I digress. The way to fix this one is probably to vote Pete Sessions out of office, which Texans have an opportunity to do this November. That could conceivably happen: Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer’s Cannabis Fund has been buying up billboards in Sessions’ district criticizing the Sessions embargo. The district is currently rated “Lean Republican,” which means it could flip if a solid challenger emerges. Republicans have been losing those types of races lately.