A Republican lawmaker who singlehandedly blocked Congress from advancing dozens of cannabis reform measures just compared state-legal cannabis industries to slavery.
This Tuesday, the House of Representatives held a subcommittee hearing to discuss President Biden's recent plans to rethink the country's excessive cannabis prohibition laws. Dozens of pro-cannabis lawmakers, veterans, advocates, and state government officials testified at the meeting to detail how federal decriminalization would benefit minorities, veterans, and the general public.
Opponents of legalization also had their turn at the mic, and used the opportunity to trot out every anti-weed myth in the book. The opposition effort was spearheaded by Texas Rep. Pete Sessions (R), a hardline prohibitionist who personally blocked dozens of cannabis reform bills while serving as the former chair of the House Rules Committee.
Sessions argued that legalization has been linked to an increase in traffic fatalities, and further stoked popular fears about the supposed health risks of high-potency THC. He also introduced a few research studies cherry-picked to support his claims, while ignoring other research that contradicts them. But instead of just sticking with this standard prohibitionist rhetoric, Sessions raved on, drawing a bizarre comparison between the legal cannabis industry and slavery.
“The product is being marketed. The product is being sold. The product has been advocated by people who were in it to make money,” Sessions said at the hearing, according to The Birmingham Times. “Slavery made money also and was a terrible circumstance that this country and the world went through for many, many years.”
Lawmakers and witnesses alike were appalled by this offensive comparison, which quickly became one of the main talking points of the hearing. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, one of the witnesses testifying in favor of legalization, personally addressed Sessions when he took the stand later that day. “While I’m on record, I would just like to say to you directly, your committee members, that putting cannabis and slavery in the same category is patently offensive and flagrant,” he said, according to The Birmingham Times.
Some of Sessions' fellow GOP lawmakers even blasted his statements. Rep. Nancy Mace (R), lead sponsor of one of the three federal decriminalization bills circulating in Congress, called Sessions' comments “a disgusting comparison,” The Birmingham Times reports. “The federal government used [the] prohibition of cannabis to investigate and raid communities of Black and brown African Americans across the nation. They used it as justification to go after those individuals in those communities.”
In an attempt to defuse the growing hostility, subcommittee chair Rep. Jamie Raskin (D) suggested that there may have been “some confusion” about the racist comparison. Still, he said he associated himself “entirely with [Mace’s] remarks beginning with your repudiation of the peculiar analogy between slavery, which is the most horrific mass crime in American history, with cannabis or cannabis use. I think we can all disavow that, and we apologize that the lectern was used for that purpose at some moment today.”
Despite Sessions' attempt to derail the meeting, the subcommittee was still able to cover a wide variety of critical topics. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) called on Congress to help expand President Biden's lightweight plan to pardon non-violent cannabis convicts, while other lawmakers highlighted the need for federal cannabis banking reform. Medical marijuana was another major talking point, especially when it comes to veterans, whose access to proven-effective treatments is blocked by excessive federal regulations.
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