US Rep. Jim McGovern says House 'going to have votes on marijuana reform,' pledges to allow debate on pot bills

AMHERST -- As Massachusetts residents lined up Tuesday to purchase legal recreational marijuana for the first time, two members of the state's congressional delegation said they're optimistic Capitol Hill lawmakers will soon address federal laws barring such sales. 

U.S. Reps. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, and Joe Kennedy III, D-Newton, told The Republican that recent Trump administration changes and Democrats' winning control of the U.S. House set the stage for Congress to finally take action on marijuana legalization. 

McGovern, who is expected to takeover as the new House Rules Committee chairman when the next Congress convenes in January, argued that he, unlike the panel's current leader, has no intention of blocking marijuana-related measures from being debated on the chamber's floor. 

"We're going to have votes on marijuana reform. I'm not going to block marijuana amendments like my predecessor has done," he said in an interview. "There are things that are just ridiculous: For example, even in states where marijuana is legal, if a veteran goes to the (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) he can't get medical marijuana -- we ought to fix that."

McGovern said he hopes to bring measures addressing medical marijuana and other legalization-related issues to the floor for consideration and a possible vote.

"As chairman of the Rules Committee, I'm not going to block marijuana amendments. People ought to bring them to the floor, they should be debated and people ought to vote the way they feel appropriate," he said.

Kennedy, who joined McGovern as part of "Monte's March" in Amherst, said he also expects the new Democrat-led House to take up marijuana legalization, particularly as states have not backed down on this issue. 

"We've seen, of course, over the past several years that the sentiment of the American public and Congress has shifted on this. It's not uniquely a Democratic position ... and so I expect it will be something that a Democratic House will act on," he said in an interview. "The details of which though, I can't speak to. But, I certainly think that's something you can expect."

Kennedy added that although former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had been hostile to states' legalization efforts, "he didn't stop them."

"One would imagine -- at least from my perspective at the federal level -- if those efforts wouldn't halt it under a Jeff Sessions Department of Justice, the Trump administration and Republican unified control of government, then they're probably not going to," he offered. "So, I think it becomes incumbent on the federal government to try to update their policies to make sure that as states make these decisions that they're doing so with the proper consumer protections and everything."

In January, Sessions announced he was rescinding Obama-era rules that largely left states alone on marijuana legalization issues.

He, however, told reporters in July that "states have a right to set their own laws and will do so," adding that the Department of Justice will "will follow the federal law."

President Donald Trump has also hinted at possible changes to marijuana laws, saying in June that he may endorse a bipartisan effort to shield states that have legalized marijuana for recreational and medical purposes from federal crackdowns.

U.S. Rep. Rep. [sic] Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, meanwhile, told FoxBusiness in October that Trump has committed to establishing marijuana reform after the November midterms.

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