On Sunday's episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver dedicated his main segment to discussing the importance of easing federal laws on marijuana. Toward the end of his segment, Oliver mentioned the Cannabis Caucus, a group of Congressional representatives who are actively working to reform federal marijuana policies.
Oliver mentioned the Cannabis Caucus in order to highlight how normalized and mainstream the fight for legalization of marijuana has become. The Cannabis Caucus is a bipartisan Congressional group founded by two Democrats and two Republicans: Republican congressmen Dana Rohrabacher (California) and Don Young (Alaska) and Democrats Earl Blumenauer (Oregon) and Jared Polis (Colorado). Combined with the bipartisan nature of the group, Oliver says that the fact that "an 83-year-old Republican from Alaska [Don Young] has come around on this issue," indicate that it is probably time for federal marijuana "laws to catch up," and reflect social and Congressional stances on the issue.
According to Forbes, the Cannabis Caucus was launched in February with the goal of bridging the divide between strict federal laws on marijuana sales and use and increasingly lax state laws on the issue, a notion which Oliver likewise used Sunday's show to highlight. During the press conference announcing the launch of the Cannabis Caucus, Rep. Rohrabacher elaborated on the rationale behind the group's establishment, saying:
We're stepping forward together to say we've got to make major changes in our country's attitude toward cannabis ... And if we do, many people are going to live better lives, it's going to be better for our country, better for people, and it makes economic sense at a time when every penny must count for government.
Oliver's segment as well as the establishment of the Caucus come at a crucial time for cannabis legislation in the United States. A recent Gallup poll demonstrated that the majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana and many state laws have begun reflecting this mentality, either through allowing medicinal use of marijuana, relaxing enforcement of marijuana laws, or legalizing it completely. Furthermore, during the Obama administration, federal marijuana law enforcement was largely relaxed and left up to the states. However, there are concerns that the Trump administration will change course and begin taking a hard line stance. Particularly, this is because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has long-indicated his opposition to easing of marijuana restrictions.
Overall, the Cannabis Caucus maintains that its primary legislative priorities consist of establishing consistencies between state and federal law that allow for relaxing of federal marijuana laws and to engage in this work for the sake of the American people. According to Rep. Rohrabacher, "the federal government’s decades-long approach to marijuana is a colossal, cruel joke, and most Americans know it ... Not only have incalculable amounts of taxpayers’ dollars been wasted, but countless lives have been unnecessarily disrupted and even ruined by misguided law enforcement."
Both the Caucus and John Oliver are working to ensure that Americans and government officials are educated about the perils of stringent federal marijuana laws and enforcement. It will be very interesting to follow the Caucus' journey in advocating for this cause under an unpredictable Trump administration.