Marijuana Legalization a Goal for Some in Congress
March 16, 2023 by Amy Patterson

Joyce, Ocasio-Cortez Partner on Cannabis Expungement ‘HOPE Act’

As a former Geauga County prosecutor, Congressman Dave Joyce witnessed firsthand the scourge of the opioid epidemic and continues to look for ways to strengthen the nation’s response to the growing threat of fentanyl.

As a former Geauga County prosecutor, Congressman Dave Joyce witnessed firsthand the scourge of the opioid epidemic and continues to look for ways to strengthen the nation’s response to the growing threat of fentanyl.

But there is one substance Joyce said deserves a second look from lawmakers — cannabis.

As a member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Joyce and other legislators are searching for solutions to the nation’s patchwork of laws around use of the drug.

Joyce said he was warned away from supporting cannabis legalization by then-Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) shortly after being sworn in for his first term. Joyce heard testimony in a hearing from a representative of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs who said while cannabis was legal for medical reasons in his home state of California, he was not allowed to prescribe it to veterans due to federal drug laws.

“I thought, you know, that doesn’t sound right,” Joyce said during a March 3 appearance at the City Club of Cleveland.

Joyce said he voted in favor of a bill proposing to relax rules around cannabis and was “summoned” to Boehner’s office.

“And (Boehner’s) like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’” Joyce said. “(He said) ‘Yeah, don’t vote for it again’ and I said, ‘Well John, it doesn’t make any sense.’”

In his remarks to the City Club, Joyce said 47 states and territories have some level of legal access to cannabis, but federal laws still consider it a schedule one drug – on par with opioids and fentanyl.

That designation prohibits the cannabis industry from working with the banking system or the tax system.

“The cannabis industry is the only (industry) that’s ever come to D.C saying they want to be taxed and regulated,” he added.

Joyce said while communities should be able to opt out of hosting cannabis-based businesses, making the drug legal could spur business growth and provide income and opportunity to small communities.

“And let’s face it, Goldman Sachs doesn’t care about this or any big banks. It’s the credit unions, it’s the small counties that, you know — this is good banking for them,” he said. “If it’s going to be here, then let’s deal with it in a way that makes sense.”

One complication for the potential legalization of cannabis is the number of people still imprisoned for previous cannabis-related offenses.

Joyce said when the moment comes for full legalization at a federal level, 50 states will have 50 different ways of handling the process of expunging those criminal records, which is why he partnered with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) on the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement Act.

Joyce said he and Ocasio-Cortez plan to reintroduce the HOPE Act, first introduced in late 2021, in the current congressional session.

“Having been both a public defender and a prosecutor, I have seen first-hand how cannabis law violations can foreclose a lifetime of opportunities ranging from employment to education to housing,” Joyce said when the bill was first introduced. “The collateral damage caused by these missed opportunities is woefully underestimated and has impacted entire families, communities and regional economies. By helping states establish and improve expungement programs for minor cannabis offenses, the HOPE Act will pave the way for expanded economic opportunities to thrive alongside effective investments to redress the consequences of the War on Drugs.”

On March 14, Joyce’s office announced the relaunching of the Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus along with Congressman Paul Tonko, a Democrat from New York. Joyce and Tonko will serve as co-chairs of the bipartisan which seeks to advance bipartisan solutions to the nation’s addiction crisis.

With 50 members, a statement from Joyce said the caucus work towards expanding access to treatment for addiction, supporting Americans recovering from the illness, and strengthening the nation’s addiction and recovery healthcare system.

“The Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus is the first and longest running Congressional caucus that recognizes addiction as a disease,” the statement said. “At a time when the United States is facing an unprecedented overdose crisis, coupled by a nation-wide shortage of healthcare professionals, Representatives Joyce and Tonko intend to use the Caucus as a forum for bipartisan action to support communities across the United States and drive commonsense solutions to the problems underpinning the crisis.

Joyce said he is proud to co-chair the group.

“The ongoing opioid epidemic continues to wreak havoc in communities throughout Ohio and our country. All of us in Congress have a solemn responsibility to do more to support Americans suffering from addiction, and to increase access to proven forms of treatment,” Joyce said. ” I look forward to facilitating the challenging but necessary conversations in Washington to ensure we find bipartisan solutions that expand access to treatment and destigmatize addiction for Americans.”