Marijuana Reform Press Conference Remarks

For generations, our archaic marijuana policies– based on stigma and outdated myths–have been used to wage a failed War on Drugs. Families have been torn apart, communities left fractured, and over-criminalization and mass incarceration have become the norm.

We’ve spent billions locking people up for non-violent drug offenses instead of investing our taxpayer dollars in our communities. Every year, we spend over $47 billion on the War on Drugs, and in 2017 alone, our country arrested over 600,000 people for possession of marijuana.

Many can’t afford bail -- further punishing those who are poor -- and become another number in our hopelessly backlogged court system that punishes non-violent offenders with criminal records and years behind bars. In my home state of Hawai‘i, this has created such a strain on our prison system that we ship people out of the state to the mainland, thousands of miles away from their families, because our prisons are overcrowded and under resourced.

These people face lifelong stigma that follows them for the rest of their lives, stifling their potential to get an education, start a small business, get a job, or provide for their families.

These archaic laws negatively impact the health and well-being of our people. There’s a growing body of evidence of the medicinal benefits of marijuana, including for veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI, its ability to prevent epileptic seizures, mitigate pain, reduce anxiety, and even halt the growth of cancer cells. And this is just the beginning. There is so much we don’t know because research has been extremely limited due to its classification as a Schedule 1 drug in the same category as heroin, LSD, and cocaine.

This classification doesn’t reflect science, data, or experiences from everyday Americans. Marijuana has been proven time and time again to be far less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco. States that have legalized the use of medical marijuana have even seen lower rates of opioid abuse and mortality.

The contradiction between state and federal laws on marijuana has created disorder in our economy, leaving state-licensed businesses and banks in confusion and uncertainty. Federal law discourages banks and credit unions from offering any type of financial services to businesses or individuals have anything to do with marijuana. Dispensary owners are still unable to open a bank account or get a loan.

This legal gap has created unsafe work environments for our legal marijuana dispensaries as they are forced to move large amounts of cash between locations because banking isn’t an option.

The bottom line is that our policies need to make sense for our people and our country. They shouldn’t cost our economy, society, and criminal justice system billions every year. We need to end the federal prohibition on marijuana now. That’s why we’re here today.

First, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition–the only bipartisan legislation that deschedules marijuana–would allow states to make independent choices about their marijuana programs, and alleviate many existing problems like barriers to medical marijuana for veterans, uncertainty with banking institutions, the inability for legal businesses to pay their taxes without penalties, and more.

Second, the Marijuana Data Collection Act would provide one consolidated report on the impact of state marijuana policies on public health, the opioid epidemic, the criminal justice system, state revenues, employment, and more. We must be governed by truth – not misinformation and lies.

If Member rightly agree that our laws are outdated and waste billions of tax dollars, and continue the vicious cycle of over-criminalization and mass incarceration -- then they should support the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act.

If Members believe we should have policies based on fact – they should support the Marijuana Data Collection Act. This bill uses a neutral arbiter, the National Academy of Sciences, to report the effect of both medicinal and non-medicinal marijuana use in our states.

It’s long overdue to pass sorely-needed marijuana reform and end the failed War on Drugs before we lose another generation to this war.


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