Congressman Tom McClintock

Representing the 4th District of California

Hearing on Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform - House Judiciary Committee/Crime Subcommittee

July 10, 2019
Opening Statement of Congressman Tom McClintock
House Judiciary Committee/Crime Subcommittee
Hearing on Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and
the Need for Reform
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
Mme. Chairman:
Marijuana decriminalization may be one of the few issues upon which bipartisan agreement can still be reached in this session.  It doesn’t require endorsing cannabis – on the contrary.  There is clear evidence that marijuana use can cause long-term neurological problems in children and adolescents, and no one should approach the use of any drug without caution and moderation.  I believe we should do everything we can to prevent its use by children and warn of its use by adults.
But it should be crystal clear that our laws have not accomplished their goals.  In fact, a deputy sheriff once said that if he chose any two high school students at random, gave each a $20 bill, sent one to buy pot and the other to buy booze, the child he sent to buy pot would always be the first one back.  They know where to get it and the dealer’s entire business is built on ignoring the law.  The youth sent to buy alcohol would visit one liquor store after another, get carded and get thrown out – precisely because the dealer’s entire business depends on obeying the law.  
I do worry about excessive use of marijuana by young adults, but excess is a trait of the young that is usually cured by experience.  And against this, we need to balance how many millions of young people have had their lives ruined because of a marijuana conviction from their youth that follows them for the rest of their lives.
Worse, like liquor prohibition in the 1920’s and 30’s, our marijuana laws have not only failed to curtail its use, they have created a violent underground economy and contributed to disdain for the rule of law in general.  Let’s face it, radish growers don’t kill each other over territory.
Furthermore, the essence of federalism is deferring to state legislatures on most domestic issues.  Louis Brandeis famously observed, a "state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."  Many states are doing so today and the rest can learn from their example -- for good or ill.  
Last month, the House of Representatives approved a bipartisan amendment, to protect state laws on marijuana commerce from interference by the federal government.  I believe more permanent reforms are needed to allow individual states to control, regulate and tax marijuana as each one sees fit.  The present conflict between state and federal laws in this matter is no longer sustainable and must be resolved.
Personally, I believe cannabis use in most cases is ill-advised.  But many things are ill-advised that should not be illegal, but rather be left to the informed judgment of free men and women.  Bruce Herschensohn, in discussing anti-tobacco laws, observed that for every pleasure in life there is a concomitant risk, and usually the greater the pleasure the greater the risk.  With enough force and regulation, he said, we can create a nearly risk-free society.  But it will also be the most miserable, colorless, tedious, boring society ever imposed upon a people.    
I do regret that just as a strong bipartisan consensus is emerging on this issue, the majority has decided to play the race card at today’s hearing.  We should have only one race in our free country – the American race – and the left does enormous harm every time it tries to divide Americans along racial lines.  The fact is that our marijuana laws have badly served us all as a nation, and this realization could be used to bring us together and not tear us apart.  
When laws have been tried over many years and have not only failed to achieve their objectives but have created great harm, it is time to revise or repeal them.  I believe we have reached that moment, and shame on those who would use it to inflame racial divisions.