US Senate Hearing Examines Marijuana Legalization | Marijuana

US Senate Hearing Examines Marijuana Legalization


U.S. senators took a deep dive into issues surrounding the legalization of marijuana on Wednesday as part of a hearing on America’s demand for illegal drugs and alternative approaches to drug control.

Although one of the nation’s leading drug policy reform activists was in the room to testify, it was a lawmaker who delivered the session’s first criticisms of the failure of prohibition.

“Like [alcohol]prohibition fueled the gangs back then, what were doing right now is fueling drug cartels, which is the reason we have an unsecured border,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Noting that when he first ran for the Senate in 2010, marijuana legalization “never came up” in conversations with voters, Johnson said that he’s now being asked about it regularly.

“I’m sympathetic with the broad spectrum of arguments” for legalization, he said. “We’ve spent a trillion dollars on the war on drugs. We’re just not winning it… Where there’s demand, the supply is going to meet it.”

But while Johnson recognizes and is able to articulate the prohibition’s harms, he’s not yet ready to fully back legalization, out of a concern that it could increase youth use.

“Because of the illegal nature of it we are funneling billions of dollars to some of the most evil people on the planet,” he said. But “you move away from that, and all of a sudden you are communicating unfortunately, potentially, [to children]‘this is ok.'”

Johnson mentioned that his nephew recently died from an overdose of fentanyl, a powerful opioid.

Testifying at the hearing was Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).

“The war on drugs in this country and around the world has been a monumental disaster,” he said. “We developed an addiction. It was an addiction to drug war thinking, drug war ideology and drug war policies.”

Acknowledging a personal interest in the issue, Nadelmann said, “I’ve been an occasional marijuana consumer for the last 40 years.”

Also testifying was David Murray, a former staffer in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George W. Bush’s administration.

Arguing passionately with Nadelmann about what he sees as the country’s dangerous move toward marijuana legalization, Murray called his fight a “battle for the brains of a new generation.”

In written testimony for the committee, Murray slammed the Obama administration’s approach of generally respecting state marijuana laws.

“Instead of effective drug control, we have witnessed at the state level, for the last several years, widespread efforts at decriminalization or outright legalization of drugs. These efforts were not countered by the Administration, which even declined to challenge them in court, and they have proven counterproductive against multiple drug control objectives,” he wrote. “The Obama Administration’s support for legal marijuana could well be reflected in these sharp increases in marijuana use.”

Beyond marijuana, the hearing touched on broader drug policy issues such as supervised consumption sites for injection drug users, prescription drug abuse and lessons learned from a public health approach to tobacco use.

Johnson said that the committee would soon issue a “data-driven” report on the issues raised at the session.

Photo Courtesy of f11photo.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)


  1. Sounds to me like Johnson has tripped on his own johnson too many times. He can’t absorb the fact that he has lost the argument before he started it.
    The country wants it more than they want him.
    The children are better protected in a legal system of regulation than under a black market system engendered by prohibition.

    • Lawrence Goodwin on

      Agreed. But David Murray’s attitude and public statements are far worse, for they clearly epitomize the tyranny of federal “marihuana” prohibition. When Murray says “these efforts have not been countered,” he refers in part to 5 separate pro-cannabis ballot initiatives (in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and D.C.) that were approved since 2012 by solid majorities of voters. We must grill any person who makes such statements in regards to exactly how they’d “counter” the voters’ will. It’s no exaggeration—at least here in strongly anti-cannabis New York—to say we are literally up against the equivalent of a First Order as depicted recently in the new “Star Wars” film. Murray and all other anti-“marihuana” tyrants are bent on destroying not just our beautiful cannabis plants, but eventually whole majorities of us.

  2. Someone should inform Sen. Johnson of recent very credible studies showing no increase in teen use where marijuana is legally available. But, will he listen?

  3. Bernadette Sava on

    I’m sick and tired of the tired of excuse of harming the children..children benefit from marijuana as medicine too!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’ve smoked daily for more than 40 years since 14 and have no brain problems thank a matter of fact, I become more intelligent as I age.

  4. Lawrence Goodwin on

    Many thanks for these awesome updates, Tom Angell. You’re informing the public about our leaders’ relentless demonization of cannabis flowers far better than anyone. Please keep up the good work all summer 2016! We finally could be in for a few momentous changes at the top.


    Most of these politicians have a part in a pharmaceutical company and do not want to see the progression of medical marijuana because it’s a given fact that medical marijuana will put the pharmaceutical companies out of business and that’s what all the fuss is about oh not to mention the fact that lumber companies are afraid also to losing money to the medical marijuana and hemp Industries so I guess the best thing would be to do is have prohibition against marijuana lol the last will be first and the first shall be last LOL

  6. “Johnson mentioned that his nephew recently died from an overdose of fentanyl, a powerful opioid.”

    This is a good example as to why we should legalize Cannabis. There is still documented overdose by the use of Cannabis.

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        • My attitude is dictated by being referred to as a ass-raper whatever that is. Spam ruins a healthy blog. How about you stand up for someone worthy of it not some asshat spammer.

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