Matt Gaetz is a conservative Republican’s conservative Republican.
Gaetz is a 34-year-old attorney who, while in the Florida legislature, pushed for accelerated executions and blocked any revision of the stand-your-ground law following Trayvon Martin’s shooting death. He now represents most of the Florida Panhandle in Congress.
Most of us would call those solid conservative bona fides “textbook reactionary,” but back at home in Gaetz’s First Congressional District, they’re local mores. His district is so solidly Republican, it’s an island of dark red floating in a less-red sea.
The district is the most conservative in Florida, with a plus-22 conservative rating from the Cook Partisan Voting Index—which may be off by double-digits. In November’s election, Gaetz defeated the Democratic challenger by nearly 40 percentage points.
So far in Congress, Gaetz has made waves for introducing a bill that would permanently abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. And in February, during the buildup leading to the failure to repeal or replace Obamacare, Gaetz ended a town-hall meeting by leading a chant to “Make America Great Again!”
Gaetz, then, is the perfect person to carry what could be the single most important marijuana-related reform bill in a session of Congress full of cannabis-related legislation.
On April 6, Gaetz and fellow Florida Rep. Darren Soto, (D-Orlando) introduced a bill that, if passed, would force Attorney General Jeff Sessions to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act to Schedule III.
Because, you see, even if Floridians want to shoot people and then put shooters on an accelerated death-row conveyor belt, they want to use medical marijuana while doing it. On the same day Donald Trump and Matt Gaetz were elected, Florida voters also overwhelmingly voted in favor of expanded medical cannabis access.
“This drug should not be in the same category as heroin and LSD, and we do not need to continue with a policy that turns thousands of young people into felons every year,” Gaetz said in a statement. “Nor do we need to punish the millions of people who are sick and seeking medical help—from pain, from muscle wasting, from chemotherapy-induced nausea.”
Rescheduling is a slightly different tactic than outright legalization—some marijuana hardliners want “descheduling,” rendering cannabis no more controlled than a tomato (as long as it’s not an invasive species of tomato)—but Gaetz’s tactic is both more effective and more realistic.
It also goes further than some prior efforts, led by Democrats.
As the world knows, the U.S. government has, since the early 1970s, declared marijuana a drug with no known medical value and a high potential for abuse—a statement on the level of climate-change denial.
A few years ago, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Rand Paul and Cory Booker introduced a bill in the Senate that would have moved cannabis to Schedule II, meaning instead of treating cannabis like heroin, we would treat it like fentanyl. That is, it would be very hard to prescribe and near-impossible to cultivate without a high-level DEA license.
By moving marijuana to Schedule III—like Tylenol with codeine, which is available over-the-counter in Canada—the drug would be both easier to prescribe and easier to research. It’s unclear how easy it would be to grow at home—but with state-level legalization and medical marijuana laws providing for home grows, that’s irrelevant.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s constant drumbeats about marijuana sending the country down the toilet would be revealed, in the eyes of the slim minority who believed him the first place, as outright slander.
“Right now it is functionally illegal to research a substance that is being prescribed as medicine in nearly 30 states,” Gaetz told the Pensacola website SandsPaper.com, as the Florida Sun-Sentinel observed. “That’s the height of stupidity. We shouldn’t be afraid of research… People are using medical cannabis. Don’t we want to know whether or not it’s working?”
The bill’s now waiting a hearing in either the Energy and Commerce or the Judiciary committees, meaning it’s currently at the stage where most marijuana-related bills in Congress go to die: limbo.
Remember your Schoolhouse Rocks: a bill can’t even hope to become a law until it’s called for a committee hearing by the relevant committee chair. And if the chairwo/man doesn’t like the bill or its sponsor or the sponsor’s hair or had a big bowl of chili for lunch and can’t remember things, the bill will never be called for a committee hearing, and the still-gestating bill will die.
Still, Gaetz’s bill has a better shot than suggestions to regulate cannabis like alcohol, pushed by liberal Democrats from whacked-out Oregon like Ron Wyden and bicycle-riding Earl Blumenauer.
“[I]n a GOP-controlled Congress,” the Sun-Sentinel recently editorialized, “Gaetz’s bill stands a better chance than a Democratic bill.”
Whether Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte or anyone else will give it a fair shot is another matter, but after Gaetz backed Trump’s turd of a healthcare bill, they owe him.