Virginia Republican Intros Legalization Bill. Who Is This Guy?

A bill introduced this week by freshman Congressman Thomas Garrett (R-Virginia) has many cannabis advocates scratching their heads.

House Resolution 1227, entitled the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017” is nearly identical to the cannabis bill introduced late in 2015 by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) during his presidential bid. The difference is that Sen. Sanders’ bill received zero co-sponsors, while H.R. 1227 already has three. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is the lead co-sponsor, and another Republican lawmaker from Virginia, Rep. Scott Taylor, has also signed on as a co-sponsor.

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The resolution is fairly simple, as it’s written. It would amend the Controlled Substances Act to remove any mention of “marihuana” and “tetrahydrocannabinols,” and would remove a section that prohibits the import and export of cannabis products between states, localities and territories. It stops short of federal legalization, but would allow for interstate commerce between states that have legal cannabis and would allow states to enact their own rules and regulations with regard to cannabis.

Rep. Garrett is a staunch Republican from a state with some of the nation’s most restrictive cannabis policies. So what’s he doing introducing legislation that would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act?

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Rep. Garrett joined the House of Representatives this year after the seat was vacated by retiring marijuana prohibitionist, Rep. Robert Hurt. Garrett faced Democratic opponent, Jane Dittmar, who managed to raise twice the funding for her campaign, but did not win a seat in the deeply conservative district. Garrett is a former Army veteran and Virginia Senator, and many of the issues he focused on during his campaign were entrenched in the core of the Republican party.

He has an A rating from the National Rifle Association and strongly believes in 2nd Amendment rights. He proposed the E.N.D. Illegal Immigration Plan, which closely aligns with the current administration’s immigration reform policy. He is pro-life, wants to lower federal taxes, and help increase national security.

He also believes that medical marijuana should be available, particularly for sick children.

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While on the campaign trail, Garrett came into contact with Virginia families whose children suffered from intractable epilepsy and was impressed to see how effective cannabinoid treatment could be. It inspired his campaign promise to make cannabis policy reform a priority if elected.

“[Cannabis] needs to be off Schedule I,” he informed supporters. “I don’t even think we’re trotting any bold political ground here…We know that there are legitimate medical uses for marijuana; we know it.”

As Rep. Garrett clarified in a statement, the legislation is not about legalizing cannabis at a federal, but removing federal interference and allowing states to set their own cannabis policies. Garrett also cited disproportionate arrest statistics as a source of inspiration for the introduction, as well as economic benefits and agricultural development.

“I have long believed justice that isn’t blind,” Garrett said in the statement. “Statistics indicate that minor narcotics crimes disproportionately hurt areas of lower socio-economic status and what I find most troubling is that we continue to keep laws on the books that we do not enforce.”

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“This step allows states to determine appropriate medicinal use and allows for industrial hemp growth, something that will provide a major economic boost to agricultural development in Southside Virginia. In the coming weeks, I anticipate introducing legislation aimed at growing the hemp industry in Virginia, something that is long overdue.”

Yesterday, the latest cosponsor signed on. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) is a member of the new Cannabis Caucus. That raises the possibility of other members of the Cannabis Caucus signing on as well.

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Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), best known for his Rohrabacher-Farr amendment (which protects state-legal medical cannabis operations from federal prosecution), also recently introduced a measure to protect cannabis patients and businesses that remain in compliance with state laws.

Rohrabacher’s House Resolution 975, the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017” would similarly amend the Controlled Substances Act, but his measure has already garnered 14 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, including every member of the Cannabis Caucus.

Both resolutions have gained bipartisan support. H.R. 975 has seven co-sponsors from each party, while H.R. 1227 has two Democrats and another Republican in addition to Garrett, the bill’s original sponsor.

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