Congress will likely be at least two votes closer to ending federal marijuana prohibition if a pair of Republicans win their U.S. House races in November.
Respecting the right of states to set their own marijuana laws without federal interference is “a wonderful example of an area in which I think we can work across the aisle and we can see a reemergence of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments,” Tom Garrett, the Republican nominee for Virginia’s 5th Congressional district seat, said in a debate on Wednesday night. “That’s something that on day one we will go to Washington and fight for. It simply makes sense.”
The candidate was answering a question about issues on which he’d be willing to buck his party’s leadership and collaborate on with Democrats. “I think we can find common sense and agreement on both sides of the aisle,” he said.
Garrett, currently a Virginia state senator, is running against Democrat Jane Dittmar to replace retiring Congressman Robert Hurt (R).
Since taking office in 2011, Hurt has consistently voted against floor amendments to prevent the federal government from impeding implementation of state medical cannabis programs. Last year he also voted against a measure to stop the feds from interfering with all state marijuana laws, including those that allow recreational use and sales.
The medical marijuana measure earned enough bipartisan support to be enacted for the past two fiscal years, but the broader measure failed last June by a vote of 206 – 222, meaning that if just nine no votes were flipped to yes, the amendment would pass.
“While I’m not advocating for legalization, I’m advocating for the return to the state’s role as it relates to determining the appropriate marijuana policy,” Garrett, a former prosecutor, said in the debate.
— Virginia GOP (RPV) (@VA_GOP) September 28, 2016
The remarks indicate that Garrett would likely vote for the marijuana amendments when they come up in the House in 2017. And he’s not the first Republican Congressional candidate running this year to replace a retiring marijuana law reform opponent to make comments hinting that legalization advocates could soon flip opposition seats to supportive ones.
Jason Lewis, the Republican nominee in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional district, is a longtime talk radio host who has strongly criticized the war on drugs.
“For the record, I happen to agree with the critics on the futility of most ‘crimes’ between two consenting adults; enforcement seldom works (see prohibition and the war on drugs) and ends up creating more problems than it solves,” he wrote in his 2011 book.
John Kline, the retiring Republican congressman who currently holds the Minnesota seat, voted eight times against the amendments to restrict the federal government’s ability to interfere with state medical cannabis laws. He also voted last year against the broader amendment to protect all state marijuana laws.
Replacing Kline and Hurt with Lewis and Garrett would likely bring legalization advocates two steps closer to passing the amendment to protect state marijuana legalization laws from federal interference.
(The marijuana positions of Dittmar and of Lewis opponent Angie Craig are unknown, so it is possible that cannabis law reform advocates could pick up support in the House regardless of the outcome of the two November contests.)
In the Wednesday debate, Garrett also criticized the federal government’s current classification of marijuana under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a designation that is supposed to be reserved for drugs with no medical value.
Referring to a Virginia law he helped pass as a state senator which allows people suffering from severe seizure disorders to use low-THC/high-CBD cannabis extracts, Garrett called medical marijuana “probably the best solution there is, and we had to fight against pharmacists in Virginia who were afraid to dispense the drug because it was federally illegal.”
As a state lawmaker he also sponsored legislation to prevent people from losing drivers licenses for marijuana possession offenses. But last year he voted against a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession.
Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.