RIP Rep. Don Young, Republican Congressperson Who Fought for Cannabis Reform
Rep. Young, the longest-serving GOP member of the House of Representatives and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, died last week.
Published on March 21, 2022

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Federal legislators and cannabis advocates are paying their respects to Rep. Don Young (R-AK), one of the few GOP lawmakers who actively fought for federal cannabis reform

Last Friday, Young unexpectedly passed away from unknown causes on a flight to his home state of Alaska. At the age of 88, Young was the oldest-serving Republican in the history of the US House, having served 25 consecutive terms since he was first elected in 1973. But despite his role as one of the most entrenched members of America's most conservative party, Young fought to end the federal War on Drugs and update the country's outdated marijuana laws.

In 2017, Young became a founding member of the newly-founded Congressional Cannabis Caucus, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers dedicated to reforming federal laws that conflict with state medical or adult-use cannabis laws. Young was also one of five Republican Congressmembers to vote in favor of the MORE Act, a federal cannabis legalization bill that passed the House in 2020. When that bill failed to pass the Senate, Young stepped up to cosponsor a more limited legalization bill introduced by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) last year.

“Don was a fierce advocate for ending the failed federal prohibition of cannabis,” the remaining co-chairs of the Cannabis Caucus said in a statement. “He was dedicated to ensuring Alaskans and all Americans had the opportunity for a better life not just for today, but also for tomorrow and the future. It was with that dedication that he helped found this Caucus and created a forum where any and all Members could engage, discuss, and learn about the need to establish a more rational approach to federal cannabis policy.”

Young also supported the legalization of adult-use cannabis in his home state. In 2019, the lawmaker paid a visit to several Alaskan legal weed businesses, even posing for photos holding giant bags of weed. At the time, Young said that he had never smoked a joint in his life, but still believed that anyone who wishes to use cannabis should have the legal right to do so.

“Rest In Peace to the Dean of the House,” fellow Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) tweeted. “I send my deepest condolences to his family & loved ones. As Cannabis Caucus Co-Chair, Don was a fierce advocate for ending the failed war on drugs. My thoughts are with his wife, family, his staff and his constituents.”

Last year, Young partnered with Cannabis Caucus co-chair Dave Joyce (R-OH) to criticize President Biden for failing to take action on federal weed reform. This year, the two sent the president another letter demanding that he follow through on his campaign promise to federally reschedule cannabis and expunge the criminal records of former pot offenders. Despite these promises, the Biden administration has continued to advocate for prohibition and even fired staffers who have used weed in the past.

The fact that Republican lawmakers are working to convince a Democratic president to embrace a liberal drug reform initiative shows that support for cannabis is truly a bipartisan issue. Several recent polls have demonstrated majority support for federal weed legalization within every political party, making it clear that Biden's anti-weed stance may cost him a chance at re-election.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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