Republican U.S. Congressman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) faces universal backlash from officials and NORML leadership after making “shameful” remarks comparing the cannabis industry with slavery at a House Oversight Committee hearing on November 15 in Washington, D.C.
The Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee gathered for the hearing to discuss developments in state cannabis laws and bipartisan cannabis reform at the federal level.
Specifically, the issues discussed involved pardoning people charged with possession and the difference between a pardon and an expungement regarding cannabis-related crimes. The topic of the day was supposed to be civil liberties, but Rep. Sessions managed to liken the cannabis industry to slavery.
“The product is being marketed. The product is being sold. The product has been advocated by people who were in it to make money,” Rep. Sessions said at the meeting. “Slavery made money also and was a terrible circumstance that this country and the world went through for many, many years.”
1819 News reports that the committee meeting—full of city, state, and federal officials—did not receive Rep. Sessions’ comments well.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin spoke out after hearing Rep. Sessions’ “offensive” comments earlier at the hearing. Woodfin spoke to the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee to join the conversation about pardon and expungements. But he couldn’t let Rep. Sessions’ comments slide.
“Words matter,” Woodfin said with conviction following Rep. Sessions’ remarks. “While I’m on record, I would just like to say to you directly, your committee members, that putting cannabis and slavery in the same category is patently offensive and flagrant.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) backed up Mayor Woodfin’s comments about the “peculiar analogy.”
“I think we can all disavow that, and we apologize that the lectern was used for that purpose at some moment today,” Raskin said.
The Cannabis Industry Reacts
The cannabis industry also took note of the careless remarks. “Today a sitting member of Congress equated the regulated cannabis industry with slavery,” NORML Political Director Morgan Fox tweeted. “Shameful. Texas, when are you going to send Pete Sessions packing?”
Politico called Rep. Sessions “Washington’s most powerful anti-pot official” in 2018. His storied history with fighting cannabis reform goes back a long way. Also, it’s not the first time Rep. Pete Sessions made questionable comments about cannabis, calling people in the business “merchants of addiction.”
“Marijuana is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way,” Rep. Sessions said in 2018. “They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuana and keep going.” Rep. Pete Session also linked traffic deaths with cannabis reform, blaming high-THC products.
Rep. Sessions’ comments linking the cannabis industry with slavery is especially ironic because there’s another thing people have likened to “modern slavery”: The U.S. prison system. The ACLU regularly reports that despite roughly equal usage rates—Black people are 3.73 times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis. The ACLU also reports that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude—includes a loophole for prisoners who can be forced to work and are still forced to work.