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Virginia Republican introduces bill to end federal marijuana prohibition

John Blanding/globe staff

A freshman Republican representative from Virginia introduced legislation this week that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana use and allow states to fully set their own course on marijuana policy.

The bill seeks to remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act and resolve the existing conflict between federal and state laws over medical or recreational use of the drug. It would not legalize the sale and use of marijuana in all 50 states — it would simply allow states to make their own decisions on marijuana policy without the threat of federal interference.

‘‘Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California,’’ Representative Thomas Garrett said in a statement. Neither recreational or medical uses of marijuana are allowed in Virginia.


The federal government considers the drug to have a ‘‘high potential for abuse’’ and ‘‘no medically accepted use.’’ But more than half of the states have set policies allowing either medical or recreational use.

Garrett’s bill is identical to legislation introduced in 2015 by Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont. That bill didn’t receive any cosponsors, nor did it get a Senate hearing. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii, has already signed on to Garrett’s bill, as have Representatives Scott W. Taylor, Republican of Virginia, and Jared Polis, Democrat of Colorado.

The freshman lawmaker frames the issue as both about states’ rights and creating jobs: ‘‘This step allows states to determine appropriate medicinal use and allows for industrial hemp growth, something that will provide a major economic boost to agricultural development in Southside Virginia,’’ he said in a statement.

One group that provides data services to the marijuana industry estimates that the legal pot industry could be worth $24 billion by 2020 and create 280,000 jobs. In Colorado alone, marijuana sales topped $1.3 billion last year.


The Trump administration has been skeptical of the merits of making the drug legally available. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said that ‘‘good people don’t smoke marijuana,’’ and press secretary Sean Spicer hinted that the administration may crack down on marijuana in states where it’s now legal.

In introducing the bill, Garrett’s statement tackled that skepticism directly:

‘‘In recent weeks, the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised to crack down on federal marijuana crimes,’’ his office wrote. ‘‘During his confirmation, then-Senator Sessions pointed out that if legislators did not like this approach, they should change the laws accordingly.’’

Garrett anticipates bipartisan support as his legislation makes its way to the appropriate committees of jurisdiction.