A Cursory Look into the Tentative List of Witnesses for the Senate Hearing on Marijuana Reform

senate marijuana reform

The Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism will be gathering to discuss marijuana reform tomorrow, and the witness list is thick as we approach the final hours before the Senate hearing begins session tomorrow morning. While the last has not been formally announced by the panel, the tentative list that thus far has shown no indication of changing, has five witnesses listed. Three on the Majority (Democrat) side and two on the Minority (Republican) side. 

Edward Jackson – Majority Witness: Jackson is the current chief of police at the Annapolis police department. His career in law enforcement began in 1983, almost 40 years ago, where he began in the Baltimore police department and quickly made his way up the ranks. While working in law enforcement he also pursued multiple degrees, including a Masters in Applied Behavioral Sciences, with a focus on community development, as well as a Ph.D. in Public Safety Leadership. On top of those credentials, Jackson is also an affiliate of the organization LEAP, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership. The organization’s primary focus is to discuss the real need for police and prison reform, and all of the speakers who work on the organization’s behalf, including Jackson, are current or former law enforcement officers. 

Malik Burnett – Majority Witness: Burnett currently works as a physician with a speciality in addiction medicine. He has been an outspoken advocate on the pro-legalization front, and has a decided interest in “shifting the framework of U.S. drug policy from one based on criminal justice towards a policy focused on health and human rights,” per his website. Burnett currently serves at the Maryland Department of Health as the medical director for harm reduction services, and before that worked for the DPA, or Drug Policy Alliance, a NY based non-profit. This would not be Burnett’s first time giving testimony in front of a crowd of politicians, as he previously testified in favor of policy reform in front of the House of Representatives. 

Weldon Angelos – Majority Witness: Angelos was a former prisoner who was originally sentenced to 55 years in a penitentiary for marijuana trafficking, as well as carrying a firearm while in possession of the marijuana. The amount he had on him when he was arrested equated to a little more than a few lbs. Due to the severity of his sentencing, judge Paul Cassell, who had no ability to go below the 55 year sentence, made a call to then President Obama to have Angelos’ sentence commuted. He was issued a full pardon by President Trump. Since his release, Angelos has continued to act as an advocate for clemency for prisoners who have suffered through similar experiences by creating his own non-profit called The Weldon Project

Alex Berenson – Minority Witness: Called “The Pandemic’s Wrongest Man” by the Atlantic, Berenson is a former NY Times reporter and a published author who has often spoken (and been criticized for) his beliefs; whether connected to his opinions on COVID, or to his spreading of controversial research that attempts to link marijuana use to violent crime and mental illness. Berenson’s questionable opinions had previously earned him a permanent ban on Twitter, but in the last two weeks, his account was reinstated after Berenson took Twitter to court for ‘violating his First Amendment rights,” though as of yet he has not made a return. Not to insert opinion but Berenson is definitely an … interesting choice of witness. 

Steven H. Cook – Minority Witness: Cook is the former president of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, and worked as a federal prosecutor who has a known reputation of being fully in favor of a severe carceral approach when it comes to the intersection of drugs and criminal justice. During the Trump administration, Cook was appointed by Jeff Session, the then Attorney General, to work as an associate deputy attorney for the Department of Justice. He also acted as a point person for the Deputy Attorney General on the Task Force for Crime Reduction and Public Safety. His appointment came right before Trump and his administration effectively canceled cannabis enforcement memos enacted by his predecessor, President Barack Obama. 

Both sides are presenting witnesses with diametrically opposing beliefs and concepts on the dangers (or rather, the lack thereof) of cannabis, and are sure to present lengthy and lively testimony. 

It is difficult to predict what the outcome will be, but based on this list of witnesses, we have hope that the majority will, in fact, rule. 

We will have updates on the hearing Wednesday. 

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Chicana journalist, editor, educator, and organizer in Sacramento whose sole focus is to shed light on stories on our most impacted and marginalized communities, but even more importantly, for those stories to humanize those normally left out. She is an Ida B Wells Investigative Journalism Fellow 2022 Finalist, a member of the Parenting Journalists Society, and has bylines in The Courier, The Sacramento Bee, The Americano, Submerge Magazine among others.

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