The Top Five Anti-Pot Warriors in Congress
The views of Americans regarding cannabis have evolved significantly over the past two decades, with more than 80% of voters now endorsing its use as a medicine, and some six in 10 Americans supporting its broader legalization. But the opinions of many federal politicians in Congress have not changed with the times. Here are the five worst offenders.
Rep. John Fleming (R–Louisiana)
As one of the few members of Congress to possess a degree in medicine, one might presume that Louisiana Rep. John Fleming would be among the more enlightened federal politicians on the subject of medical marijuana. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even among prohibitionists, Rep. Fleming stands alone in his anti-pot zealotry.
Permitting physicians to recommend cannabis therapy to war veterans would cause “death and destruction,” he alleged after voting against an amendment to expand patients’ access. “It’s like adding gasoline to a fire.”
Rep. Fleming is also an outspoken critic of the emerging cannabis industry. “Look at the downstream cost to society when you have all of these [people] who are going to have lung cancer, emphysema, brain damage and heart disease as a result of [marijuana legalization],” he contends. “So what we’re doing really is putting money in the pockets of some very greedy people out there who are taking advantage of this.”
Predictably, Rep. Fleming takes no issue with Big Pharma profiting from the cannabis plant. While publicly opposing the use of herbal cannabis for the treatment of pediatric epilepsy, he’s endorsed Epidiolex—GW Pharmaceutical’s patented high-CBD product—for treating seizures.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R–Iowa)
Few prohibitionists have been in Congress longer than Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley. He chairs the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control—a fear-mongering committee whose congressional hearings closely resemble prohibitionist dog-and-pony shows—and, more significantly, the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is assigned to deliberate over all of the marijuana law reform measures pending before the Senate, such as S. 2237, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, and S. 683, the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act.
Because he unabashedly opposes any change to federal marijuana policy, Sen. Grassley has made it clear that none of these measures will ever be heard or voted upon by his committee; without a Senate Judiciary vote, the bills possess no chance at passage in the 114th Congress.
“I oppose moving marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug, based on the current science on the risks and benefits,” he stated shortly after the introduction of the CARERS Act, which, if enacted, would reschedule cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and remove CBD from the act entirely.
Rep. Andy Harris (R–Maryland)
In 2014, when Washington, D.C. voters decided in favor of Initiative 71, a municipal measure legalizing marijuana possession and cultivation in the city, no one in Congress was more outraged than Maryland Republican Andy Harris, who claimed that the implementation of the voter-approved measure “would create legal chaos” and spike unemployment rates in the nation’s capital.
After the legalization vote, Harris filed a budgetary amendment to “prohibit both federal and local funds from being used to implement a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use in the District.”
Although Congress passed the restriction, local politicians refused to kowtow to Rep. Harris’ demands, and in 2015, city officials codified I-71 into law. Within months, marijuana-related arrests in the District fell 99% from the previous year.
While marijuana law reform advocates rejoiced, Rep. Harris steamed, calling on the U.S. Attorney General to criminally prosecute D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for defying his amendment.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D–Florida)
Republicans aren’t the only party susceptible to reefer madness. Some Democrats have caught the bug, as well—none more so than Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
The former Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair’s anti-pot bigotry is well documented. She was one of only eight Democrats who voted in 2015 against allowing medical cannabis access to veterans. (The measure was defeated in the House.) Schultz is also among the minority of U.S. Representatives in recent years to vote against the Rohrabacher/Farr amendment, a provision passed by Congress two years in a row to halt the Department of Justice from interfering in state-sanctioned medical cannabis programs. In addition, in 2014 she spoke out against the passage of Florida’s Amendment 2, a medical marijuana legalization initiative that lost by a narrow margin.
Rep. Schultz has expressed the long-rejected opinion that cannabis is a “gateway” drug, alleging that those who experiment with it are likely to “travel down the path toward using more drugs.” Not surprisingly, the beer and alcohol industry is the fifth-largest contributor to her 2016 reelection campaign.
She recently resigned from her position with the DNC after derisive emails regarding Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign were leaked.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R–Alabama)
Speaking at a recent Senate hearing, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions made it perfectly clear what he thinks about pot: “It’s dangerous. It cannot be played with. It’s not funny. It’s not something to laugh about. Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
A former U.S. Attorney during the Reagan administration, he’s frequently chastised the Obama administration for abandoning the oversimplified tactics of “Just Say No,” and for acknowledging that pot is less harmful to health than alcohol. “This is just difficult for me to conceive how the President of the United States could make such a statement as that,” Sen. Sessions remarked in 2014, adding: “Lady Gaga says she’s addicted to [marijuana] and it is not harmless.”
For more information on the voting records of the members of the 114th Congress, go to norml.org/congressional-scorecard.
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