This weekend, business leaders are gathering in Kauai for the International Cannabis Business Conference. This growing industry impacts multitudes of American life, including our healthcare and criminal justice systems, small businesses, and banking. The ICBC comes to Kauai at a time where federal, state, and local enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act has never been more at odds. Twenty-nine states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, including Hawai'i. Eight states and Washington, D.C. have gone a step further and legalized marijuana recreationally. Despite this progression away from the failed "tough on crime" drug laws of past decades, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has threatened to scale up the Justice Department's enforcement of federal marijuana statutes. This guidance puts businesses like those in Kauai this weekend in a considerable bind.

Federal drug policies have disproportionately punished marijuana users. Parents have been taken away from their children, forever changing the fabric of millions of American families. Taxpayers have carried the cost, spending billions of dollars to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate individuals who committed non-violent offenses. As a result, the United States now incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth. As marijuana prohibition has continued, the for-profit private prison industry has grown in influence. The pharmaceutical industry, long opposed to ending federal marijuana prohibition, has made record profits marketing opioids to the public and contributing to the worst addiction epidemic in American history.

This year I introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act (H.R. 1227) with a Republican and fellow Army veteran, Rep. Tom Garrett, and our bill now has the cosponsorship of ten Democrats, five Republicans, and organizations across the country. The limited studies that relate to marijuana's medical applications have shown a corresponding drop in the number of opioid overdoses and deaths, in some cases by more than twenty percent. We are losing 91 people every day to opioid addiction. In most cases, the people we lose are the ones most needing our support. Members of the American Legion, one of the largest veterans organizations in America, overwhelmingly support the medical legalization of marijuana as an alternative to opioids. In addition, medical marijuana has been shown as a viable treatment for epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, pain relief, cancer, and other diseases. People with epilepsy who use CBD oil have seen their number of seizures drop precipitously without any adverse side effects.

Contradictory marijuana statutes have imposed serious hurdles on dispensaries. FDIC regulations prevent banks from doing business with them. As a result, many small businesses like Aloha Green in Honolulu have had to use a cash-only model. Keeping track of a business' bottom line, managing the risk of holding cash instead of depositing into a bank, and customer service all suffer as a result. Listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug on the Controlled Substances Act, on the same level as heroin, is outdated and harmful federal policy. No serious healthcare professional believes there is an equivalence between the drugs. In fact, marijuana may be even less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, substances that H.R. 1227 would use as a regulatory model to keep some restrictions on marijuana's sale, purchase, and use.

Ending the so-called "War on Drugs," reforming our broken criminal justice system, and improving our healthcare systems are goals that every American can support. If you would like to learn more, please read my recent interviews with the International Cannabis Business Conference and the blog Smell the Truth, and be sure to sign onto H.R. 1227 as a citizen co-sponsor with the link below.

Do you agree that marijuana should be decriminalized?

Tulsi has introduced H.R. 1227, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, with her Republican colleague and fellow Army veteran Tom Garrett. Our bill puts marijuana on the same level as alcohol and tobacco, permitting greater research and development of marijuana’s medicinal uses like treating epilepsy and cancer, and eases the burden on businesses in states with legal dispensaries like Hawaiʻi to secure loans and open checking accounts. This common sense reform will give some relief to the millions of people and families who have been dragged into our broken criminal justice system and prevent lives from needless ruin in the future. Add your name if you agree.