Congress Creates Commission To Study Drug War Alternatives


Congress just ordered a “comprehensive review” of failed U.S. approaches to reduce drug abuse and supply through prohibition-based interdiction programs.

Early on Saturday morning the Senate passed a bill creating a new commission that will be tasked with studying the impact of the war on drugs, with a focus on U.S. policies toward Latin America and the Caribbean.

Among other topics, commissioners are directed to look at “alternative drug policy models in the Western Hemisphere,” which will likely include Uruguay’s legalization of marijuana and the enactment of drug decriminalization and harm reduction policies elsewhere.

The move to create the commission is part of broader House-passed legislation authorizing programs under the U.S. State Department. The bill is now on its way to President Obama’s desk.

The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission will be comprised of ten members appointed by Congressional leadership and the president, and is charged with submitting a report including findings and recommendations within 18 months.

The State Department bill’s language creating the commission closely mirrors standalone legislation long championed by Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY).

“Over the last few decades, we’ve spent billions and billions of taxpayer dollars on counternarcotics programs in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission will force us to take a fresh look at our drug policy and make sure we have the best strategy moving forward,” Engel said in a press release. “We need to have an honest assessment of what has worked and what has failed as we consider how to spend our counternarcotics dollars in the future. With heroin use on the rise here at home, our children deserve no less than a fair evaluation of our drug policy.”

More Marijuana Moves in Congress

In other Capitol Hill news, it was announced on Friday that legislators leading the charge for marijuana law reform will form a Cannabis Caucus when the 115th Congress convenes next month.

“There needs to be more strategy between us, those of us who are engaged in this. More of a long-term strategy,” Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a caucus cofounder, told DecodeDC . “We need to have a vehicle in which people on the outside will be able to work through and sort of have a team effort from the inside and the outside.”

Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) are also helping to organize the new caucus.

Also on Friday, Congress passed a short-term extension of legislation funding the federal government — and continuing a rider that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws — through April 28, 2017.

Finally, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced that confirmation hearings for the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), an ardent opponent of marijuana legalization who some reformers fear will crack down on state laws, will be held on January 10 and 11.