WASHINGTON, D. C. – Bainbridge Township Republican Rep. Dave Joyce is leading a new congressional effort to remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances, allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical cannabis to veterans, and direct the federal government to regulate the cannabis industry as it already regulates alcohol in what organizations that lobby for cannabis legalization say is the first Republican-led effort to repeal marijuana laws.
The former Geauga County prosecutor who co-chairs the Congressional Cannabis Caucus says the bill he introduced this week with his fellow caucus co-chair, Alaska Republican Don Young, includes policies they feel can obtain bipartisan agreement – such as permitting state-legal cannabis businesses to utilize traditional financial services and giving veterans access to marijuana for pain control instead of more addictive substances like opioids. He introduced a separate bill last month that would let the VA prescribe medical marijuana.
Joyce said that his position on marijuana evolved from his days as a prosecutor. Factors that swayed him included watching his father die of cancer.
“You can give people all the opioids and morphine that they’d want but then, God forbid, they give them any cannabis which might have settled the stomach and allowed them to have a decent meal,” said Joyce. “You know, I’m not a doctor. I don’t try to play one. But I do think the research has to be done to show what it’s good for and if it is medicinally preferred, it certainly would be better for pain than the opioid crisis and epidemic that we’ve been living through.”
Joyce’s bill would direct the National Institutes of Health to conduct studies on cannabis as it pertains to pain management and cannabis impairment and report to Congress within two years of enactment. Joyce hopes those studies would help develop clear standards for cannabis intoxication to prevent people from driving under the influence.
Joyce said a Democrat-backed bill that passed the House of Representatives last year with without his support was a “step too far” for Republicans who’d be willing to back other measures to federally decriminalize marijuana and facilitate cannabis-related business operations, as his bill would do. The Democrats’ bill, which was not considered by the U.S. Senate, would have authorized a marijuana tax to fund aid programs for those most affected by the drug’s longtime criminalization.
“There are some things we can agree upon,” said Joyce, who is seeking cosponsors for his “Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses, and Medical Professionals Act” by distributing hand bills to colleagues on the House of Representatives floor that list the 40 states that have legalized some form of marijuana use, whether its medical, recreational or CBD. In Ohio, medical marijuana is legal.
He said his bill would respect states rights by allowing them to keep it illegal, if they desire. Those that want to legalize it would be able to set up their own state-level framework for marijuana distribution, much as every state has its own alcohol sales procedures, said Joyce. The bill also would allow cannabis to be transported across state lines, but not to states where it remains illegal.
His bill has support from organizations including the National Medical Cannabis Coalition, National Cannabis Roundtable and U.S. Cannabis Council.
“It is incredibly encouraging to see Republican leadership to end the federal prohibition and criminalization of cannabis,” said a statement from Steven W. Hawkins, Interim President & CEO of the U.S. Cannabis Council. “Cannabis reform is truly a bipartisan matter ripe for immediate solution.”
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) described the bill as the “first Republican-led effort to repeal federal marijuana laws.”
“It is our hope that more congressional Republicans will follow the lead of Representatives Joyce and Young, as well as the American people, in supporting a repeal of the failed and senseless policy of federal marijuana criminalization by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act,” said a statement from NORML Political Director Justin Strekal.