Rep. Barbara Lee Is 'Cautiously Optimistic' Republicans Will Stand Down on Cannabis

July 16, 2019

By Chloe Aiello

Multiple cannabis bills are making their way through the U.S. House and Senate as the call to legalize and regulate cannabis on the federal level strengthens. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said she's 'cautiously optimistic' her Republican colleagues will get out of the way of, if not fully support, legislative efforts to reform cannabis laws.

"I'm, cautiously optimistic that they ー I won't say support us and what we're doing ー but that they will leave us alone and let us get those bills to the president's desk," Lee told Cheddar. "Hopefully they're allowing ー and this would be very unique with this administration ー the legislative branches of government ... to do its job."

Lee is herself a sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act, the REFER Act, and the RESPECT Resolution, progressive bills that, among other things, aim to de-schedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, expunge cannabis-related convictions at the federal level, and encourage reinvestment into communities most impacted by punitive drug laws. Black Americans are about four times more likely than white Americans to be arrested for cannabis possession, despite comparable use, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. And drug convictions can have out sized effects on individuals' futures, threatening housing, education, and job prospects.

"The marijuana policies in this country have driven the prison population. And so we've got to stop that, because we've got to crack this pipeline, this school to prison pipeline, but also we have to have some justice," Lee said.

Discussions about restitution and expungement have begun to dominate cannabis legalization efforts on the state-level, as advocates and lawmakers look to mitigate some of the damage caused by prohibition. In New York and New Jersey, adult use legalization efforts stalled in part due to disagreements on how best to ensure those communities most impacted by drug policies of the past are included in the burgeoning cannabis industry. Even on the federal level, lawmakers disagree on how best to proceed with legalization, as underscored by a recent House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on cannabis.

But Lee said that even Republican members of Congress "are coming around" to cannabis reform and to the Marijuana Justice Act.

"I think [Republicans] are coming around, because they don't want to see unjust laws in many ways that are disproportionately affecting a huge number of Americans. And so it's going to take a while ... but I think it's going to pass. It's just going to take a little more pressure on members of Congress," she said.