Why the US needs federal marijuana reform: Q&A with Congressman Tom Garrett

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U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett isn’t the most likely congressional member to embrace federal marijuana reform.

The first-term Republican is from a state – Virginia – that has yet to legalize medical marijuana, although its laws provide protections for people who use cannabidiol oils for medical conditions.

Why did Garrett introduce the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017” – a bill that would take marijuana off the federal controlled substances list?

The former county and state prosecutor is troubled by the disparate way marijuana laws are enforced in the United States.

“I care about equal protection under the law, and we’re so far from that,” Garrett told Marijuana Business Daily.

Garrett will speak on a panel discussion about marijuana regulation at MJBizConNEXT May 9-11 in New Orleans.

MJBizDaily spoke with Garrett, who’s also a military veteran, about his views on marijuana reform and regulation.

How did a Republican from a state that doesn’t have a marijuana industry get interested in this issue?

I spent close to 10 years as a prosecutor and vigorously prosecuted all the laws on the books.

Marijuana is a realm where we’ve got laws on the books, particularly federally, that are not uniformly enforced.

It just strikes me as totally undermining the concept of rule of law that we would enforce laws in certain areas while completely ignoring them in others.

Also, I was probably amused the first time I heard the term medical cannabis or marijuana. Over the years, what I’ve learned – whether it’s speaking to parents of children with epilepsy, people with terminal cancer or people with traumatic brain injuries – is that it actually does help medically.

The federal government won’t be honest about the potential that exists medically, and that’s stupid.

If you poll this in my district, it’s not a political winner. But I’m not here to do what’s a political good idea, I’m here to do what’s right.

Why do you think your bill and other marijuana reform efforts have failed to gain traction?

It’s very simple. There are a bunch of gatekeepers here that won’t let these bills get to the floor. There are gatekeepers at the subcommittee level, committee level.

You have to have leadership that says, “Hey, we’re going to vote on this bill.”

If our bill gets to the floor, it passes with a bipartisan majority – that’s probably close to 300 out of 435 votes.

What marijuana issues could get the support right now?

You’ve got the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, and it’s good, but essentially what that says is that we’re not going to enforce the laws that are on the books.

If you think we should make laws that we apply uniformly, then you know that’s not the right answer.

You could be entrepreneur of the year in Denver, but, for the exact same fact pattern, be in a federal prison in Charlottesville, Virginia. It just makes no sense.

When do you foresee the legalization of marijuana in the United States?

I’m not going to play hypothetical games.

But what this takes is men and women who have the courage to stand up and say, “You know this makes no sense, we have to change it.”

Every single day we get more of those folks. This is not a partisan issue. This is sort of a “Who has really looked into this issue, what’s the right thing to do” issue.

How likely do you think it is that federal prosecutors will crack down on operations in marijuana-friendly states? 

I tell you what, I think there’d be a rebellion amongst the leadership. I would not sit quietly while we have for years looked the other way.

Maybe that’s what we need to get across the line, but I hope it doesn’t happen.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jeff Smith can be reached at jeffs@mjbizdaily.com