Alaska’s U.S. Rep. Don Young joined Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and a group of legalization advocates on outside the U.S. Capitol last Thursday to announce a new bill that would hand over much of the decisions and enforcement of marijuana to the states.
The unusual pair introduced two bills: One that would remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances, which would give states greater say in legalization and grant the industry access to banking, as well as a second bill that would create more rigorous studies of marijuana in legalized states.
“We all know the facts: The overcrowded jails, the imposition of the federal government on states. I got involved in this when the state of Alaska voted overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana totally, but as I talked to the people who are dealing with this, working with this and manufacturing this as businessmen their biggest problem was not being able to bank,” Young said. “This bill takes care of it.”
Young is the co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and has backed other pieces of pro-marijuana legislation in recent years. He said he became a supporter of the effort after Alaska legalized recreational marijuana in 2014.
“This bill is long overdue, this is the bill that solves the problem,” Young said. “Get the federal government out of it. Don’t spend the money, get the government out and let states run it and do it right.”
Removing cannabis from the federal controlled substances list would go a long way to easing federal pressure on states and businesses over marijuana, advocates say, specifically granting better access to banking for businesses. It would still be up to states to decriminalize and legalize possession and sale of marijuana.
Recreational marijuana is still illegal in Hawaii, but it has a budding medical marijuana dispensary system. Gabbard focused on marijuana’s use as medicine and for the need to reform archaic criminal penalties for marijuana possession.
“Millions of people have been arrested for the possession or use of marijuana. Many can’t afford bail—further punishing those who are poor—and become mired in our hopelessly back-logged court system that punishes non-violent offenders with felonies and years behind bars,” she said in a prepared statement. “Others have faced the lost opportunities and life-long stigma that follows them with a criminal record,”.”
With a Democratic Congress, Young said he thinks these bills have the best chance at passing.
“I’ll work with her and hopefully get this done—I’ve talked to the leadership, she has too—we think this will happen this two years we’re here and get it done,” he said. “I’m working on it, she’s working on it. Bipartisan. Hawaii and Alaska, we’re gonna lead the way.”