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Chairman Nadler Statement for the Subcommittee Hearing on “Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform”

Washington, July 10, 2019

Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks during a Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing on “Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform”:

“I thank our Crime Subcommittee Chair, the Gentlelady from California, Ms. Bass, for holding this hearing today on the need to reform our marijuana laws.  I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake, and the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake, with serious consequences, particularly for minority communities.

“Marijuana is one of the oldest agricultural commodities not grown for food, and it has been used medicinally all over the world since at least 2700 B.C., but its criminalization is a relatively recent phenomenon.

“The use of marijuana, which most likely originated in Asia, later spread to Europe, and made its way to the Americas when the Jamestown settlers brought it with them across the Atlantic.  The cannabis plant has been widely grown in the United States and was used as a component in fabrics during the middle of the 19th century.  During that time period, cannabis was also listed in the United States Pharmacopeia as a treatment for a multitude of ailments, including muscle spasms, headaches, cramps, asthma, and diabetes.

“It was only in the early part of the 20th century that marijuana began to be criminalized—mainly because of misinformation and hysteria, based at least in part on racially biased stereotypes connecting marijuana use and minorities, particularly African Americans and Latinos.  Unfortunately, the same racial animus motivating enactment of these laws also led to racially disproportionate enforcement of such laws, which has had a substantial, negative impact on minority communities.

“The collateral consequences of conviction for marijuana possession—and even sometimes for a mere arrest—can be devastating.  For those saddled with a criminal conviction, it can be difficult or impossible to vote, to obtain educational loans, to get a job, to maintain a professional license, to secure housing, to receive government assistance, or even to adopt a child.

“These exclusions create an often-permanent second-class status for millions of Americans.  This is unacceptable and counterproductive, especially in light of the disproportionate impact that enforcement of marijuana laws has had on communities of color.

“It is not surprising, therefore, that over the past two decades, public support for legalizing marijuana has surged.  States have led the way with reforms, and presently, medicinal or recreational marijuana use is legal in 33 states and the District of Columbia.  However, our federal laws have not kept pace with the obvious need for change.

“In my view, applying criminal penalties, with their attendant collateral consequences for marijuana offenses is unjust and harmful to our society.  The use of marijuana should be viewed instead as an issue of personal choice and public health.

“An examination of our marijuana laws and potential reforms is long overdue, and I appreciate the Chair for holding this important hearing.  I look forward to hearing from our witnesses, and I yield back the balance of my time.”

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