It's one of the most pressing questions coming out of the Nov. 6, 2018, election: Now that Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions has been defeated by Democrat Colin Allred in North Texas, will the House Rules Committee finally get back to passing meaningful cannabis legislation?
Before Sessions lost in the 2018 midterm election, he was named “Washington's most powerful anti-pot official” by Politico Magazine. As Chairman of the House Rules Committee, Sessions ruled with an iron fist when it came to blocking bipartisan medical marijuana legislation from being considered on the House floor. In 2016, Sessions received an F grade from National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) for his poor voting record on cannabis policy. During the 2018 summer, Sessions went a step too far when he blocked four marijuana-related amendments, three of which were specifically designed to protect veterans who legally obtained and used medical marijuana, according to the Daily Beast.
It is unfortunate that Pete Sessions refuses to acknowledge that medical marijuana can help our veterans coming back from war who are struggling with PTSD and chronic pain. https://t.co/NxpfE55Xzr
— Colin Allred (@ColinAllredTX) June 7, 2018
But after blocking approximately three dozen cannabis-related bills during his tenure as chairman, according to Marijuana Moment, his seat for Texas' 32nd District was targeted by politically savvy activists who created a political action committee (PAC). Rob Kampia, the founder and former Executive Director of Marijuana Policy Project formed the PAC with one primary focus: defeating Sessions.
“Marijuana is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way,” Sessions told members of the House Rules Committee in January 2018, as they debated an amendment that would protect states with legal marijuana from federal interference. “They make it for addiction. They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuana and keep going.”
And with that war on drugs mentality, Sessions kept cannabis policy from progressing in the House. While Sessions didn't have control over state-specific marijuana laws, he consistently used his position as chairman to take a hard-line stance against any marijuana legislation.
See, the Rules Committee acts as a legislative traffic cop. It schedules which legislation will be heard, determine how much time will be spent on discussing bills, and ultimately what kind of amendments, if any, can be considered. First established in 1888, the Rules Committee has been the primary means by which the leadership of the House schedules legislation and sets procedures on how bills will be debated on the House floor, according to the Committee on Rules website.
The Rules Committee establishes rules for debate for the 435-member House. Under the committees' Open Rule, amendments are allowed to be debated for no more than five minutes, while a Closed Rule “effectively eliminate[s] the opportunity to consider amendments.” And for Sessions, Closed Rules were his weapon of choice when it came to marijuana-related amendments.
Sessions' Anti-marijuana Legacy Won't Soon be Forgotten
But with the Democrats now in control of the House, its anticipated that Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern will likely become the next chair of the House Rules Committee.
“Unlike my predecessor, I'm not going to block amendments for marijuana,” McGovern told Boston Globe. “Citizens are passing ballot initiatives, legislatures are passing laws, and we need to respect that."
🚨🌳Exclusive: US Rep. Jim McGovern tells the @BostonGlobe how his approach to running the powerful House Rules Committee will differ from that of his predecessor, Pete Sessions. One big change: no more blockade on #marijuana legislation.https://t.co/t2HJSFQOSA
— Dan Adams (@Dan_Adams86) November 9, 2018
This holiday season, the real gift for America's veterans is that Democrats are now in control of the House. With a chairman open-minded towards medical marijuana, and 33 states having some form of medical marijuana on the books, veterans will have a real reason to be hopeful as we head into 2019.
The Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilke, told reporters on Nov. 9, 2018, that the VA will consider allocating benefits towards medical cannabis for veterans, but only after the federal laws have changed. While that sounds like a distant and vague assurance, at least two of Trump's confidants are under the distinct impression that marijuana reform will soon be a high priority on the administration's to-do list.
Featured Image: Republican House Rules Committee Chair Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, shown in 1998, was defeated Nov. 6, 2018. (Photo by Susana Raab via the Library of Congress).