WASHINGTON, D.C. (WSET) -- Virginia Congressman Tom Garrett introduced legislation in February that aims to federally decriminalize marijuana.
On Wednesday he and his team held a press conference to update the public on the bill's progress from 2 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.
*WATCH LIVE BELOW*
If passed, the bill would take marijuana off the federal controlled substances list.
"I have long believed justice that isn't blind, isn't justice. Statistics indicate that minor narcotics crimes disproportionately hurt areas of lower socioeconomic status and what I find most troubling is that we continue to keep laws on the books that we do not enforce," Garrett said.
Rep. Garrett said decriminalizing marijuana would allow states "to determine appropriate medicinal use and allows for industrial hemp growth" and would promote an economic boost to the agricultural and hemp industries.
The bill, titled Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017, was originally introduced in 2015 by Senator Bernie Sanders.
Tentative speakers at the press conference include U.S. Congressman Scott Taylor, parents of Haley Smith, Sophia Miller, and Jennifer Collins, and several other bipartisan members of Congress that have cosponsored this legislation.
Also in attendance will be representatives from advocacy organizations from across the country including Americans for Safe Access, according to Garrett.
Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a nonpartisan, non-profit alliance of physicians, policy makers, prevention workers, treatment and recovery professionals, scientists, and other concerned citizens opposed to marijuana legalization released a statement:
“Common sense – not Cheech and Chong ideology – should drive our nation’s marijuana laws. At a time when the opioid crisis is stealing thousands of lives in Virginia each year, Congressman Garrett apparently believes his legislative energy is best spent supporting the special interests of a growing, for-profit drug industry instead of the parents and community leaders in his district working to keep young people away from drugs. Make no mistake: Congressman Garrett’s legislation is designed to chip away at law enforcement’s ability to keep drug trafficking organizations out of our communities and support a growing for-profit industry that will target poor and young people throughout Virginia,” said SAM President and former senior White House drug policy advisor Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
“The marijuana industry is the next Big Tobacco of our time, and history will not look kindly upon those who enabled lobbyists and special interest groups to gain a foothold in putting profit ahead of public health and safety. Instead of pushing legislation that will increase drug use in Virginia, we call on Congressman Garrett to break his silence on the recent Washington proposals to gut funding for vital opioid programs in his district and divert his agenda toward increasing funding for prevention, treatment, and smart-on-crime programs that will make Virginia healthier and stronger.”
Despite the oft-repeated refrain that drug enforcement is an issue of “states’ rights,” the consequences of heroin, cocaine, meth, and marijuana are not confined by geographic borders. In 2005, the Supreme Court examined this issue in Gonzales v. Raich, where the highest court ruled 6 to 3 that federal law supersedes state law when it comes to enforcing drug statutes – even in states where marijuana is legal because marijuana sales affect interstate commerce. Since Colorado legalized marijuana, the drug has streamed into neighboring states and emboldened drug trafficking organizations there.
Additionally, science has demonstrated a link between opioid and marijuana use. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than four in 10 people who ever use marijuana will go on to use other illicit drugs, per a large, nationally representative sample of U.S. adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has found that marijuana users are three times more likely to become addicted to heroin.
Research demonstrates that marijuana – which has skyrocketed in average potency over the past decades – is addictive and harmful to the human brain, especially when used by adolescents. Moreover, in states that have already legalized the drug, there has been an increase in drugged driving crashes and youth marijuana use. States that have legalized marijuana have also failed to shore up state budget shortfalls with marijuana taxes, continue to see a thriving black market, and are experiencing a continued rise in alcohol sales.