Congress taking steps to lift marijuana restrictions


WASHINGTON — Oklahomans may soon be able to get their medical marijuana treatments outside of state lines. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) this week released a draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

The bill aims to legalize marijuana on the federal level, which would not only ensure state-compliant cannabis businesses are able to access essential federal services, but also protect consumers from being arrested or barred from receiving essential services for using cannabis where it is legal. 

This bill, coupled with the Safe Banking Act, which has passed the House, will serve as a catalyst for the industry-making medical marijuana accessible and transportable across the nation. 

During their press conference, Schumer also called for the expungement of state nonviolent marijuana possession charges and said provisions in the bill would also allow for that on the federal level..

“For decades, for decades, young men and young women, disproportionately young Black and Hispanic men and women, have been arrested and jailed for carrying even a small amount of marijuana in their pocket—a charge that often came with exorbitant penalties and a serious criminal record because of the overcriminalization of marijuana, and it followed them for the remainder of their lives. It makes no sense and it’s time for a change,” Schumer said.

Efforts by powerful Democrats come at the same time that Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Tulsa) is continuing to restrict access to marijuna.  Earlier this month Oklahoma’s senior senator requested $4 million in federal funding to fight illegal marijuana farms in the state. 

“They are bringing with them a list of terribles…criminal activities that have absolutely nothing to do with drugs,” said Luke Holland, Inhofe’s chief of staff. “Also, human trafficking, money laundering, weapons trafficking.”

This request, first reported by KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City,  may have come in part due to a recent Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics discovery. On June 14 the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics shut down a large illegal marijuana growing operation in Muskogee County. 

Mark Woodward, narcotics bureau spokesman, said the 40-acre, 24,000 plant farm had no license and those in charge of the operation had made no effort to get licensed. In addition, the 20 to 30 Hispanic males working on the farm were potentially victims of Human (Labor) Trafficking.

“While none of them willingly claimed to be a victim, these men were forced to live in deplorable conditions. They stayed in make-shift shanties without electricity or running water to the property. They appeared to be bathing and washing their clothes in a less than sanitary and stagnate creek/pond nearby. Interviews revealed that they had not been paid and were told that they would receive a percentage of the profits after the harvest,” Woodward said. 

In addition, Inhofe’s apparent marijuana opposition, Sen. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma City) actively opposed pro-marijuana policies such as a 2017 legislation that permits  Department of Veteran Affairs doctors to prescribe medical marijuana in states where it is legal. 

Other than spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice (R, Oklahoma City) saying she would have no comment until she had read the legislation, none of the other state’s delegation returned calls seeking comment.

However, Representative Tom Cole (R, Moore) did vote in favor of a House banking bill, the Safe Banking Act of 2021, that prohibits a federal banking regulator from penalizing a depository institution for providing banking services to a legitimate cannabis-related business despite actively opposing marijuana bills in the past, a little over two years after Oklahoma became legal grounds for medical marijuana businesses. 

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.