Don Young, Dean of the House and Cannabis Supporter, Dies at 88

US Representative Don Young (R-AK), the longest-running member of the US House of Representatives, died suddenly on March 18th, 2022. He was 88 years old.

Young was first elected to the US House of Representatives in 1973 in a special election after former US Rep Nick Begich disappeared in a plane crash. Prior to the election in 1973, Young served as the Fort Yukon Mayor from 1964 to 1967, as a member of the Alaskan House of Representatives from ‘67 to ‘71, and as a member of the Alaskan Senate from ‘71 to ‘73.

Young was the last remaining person in office who served under the Nixon administration, and, on December 5th, 2017, when former Dean of House John Conyers retired, he became the 45th Dean of the House of Representatives

Don Young will be remembered for many accomplishments throughout his time in office, but among many, the greatest thing he will be remembered for is being a champion for the legalization of cannabis.

Don Young On Cannabis

Young’s fight for the legalization of cannabis on a federal level goes back to 2015 when he first introduced the CARERS Act. 

Let’s take a quick look at the timeline for his championing of legal cannabis.

2015: The CARERS (Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States) Act. This legislation would allow states with legal marijuana legislation to set their own policies for medical marijuana, as well as allow doctors and physicians who worked with the Department of Veteran Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans. 

2017: The SAFE (Secure and Fair Enforcement) Banking Act. Legislation that would protect financial institutions from accusations of money laundering if they provided banking, credit, or debit services to businesses in the cannabis industry. This is something many financial institutions are afraid of due to the fact that marijuana is still federally illegal, even if it’s legal in the state where the financial institution resides. Due to this, many marijuana growers and businesses are forced into dealing in cash rather than credit or debit, which attracts crime.

2017: The Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Young launched this caucus with fellow representatives Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Jared Polis (D-CO), in an effort to balance federal and state laws in regards to recreational and medical cannabis.

2020: The MORE (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement) Act. Young was one of only five Republicans of the House to vote in favor of this act that would “correct the historical injustices of failed drug policies that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities”

[Related Reading: What the MORE Act Means for Federal Cannabis Reform & Society at Large]

2021: The GRAM (Gun Rights and Marijuana) Act. This legislation would allow legal cannabis users under state law to own firearms. 

2021: The Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses, and Medical Professionals Act. With this legislation, Young hoped to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and push for federal regulations for marijuana as there currently is for alcohol.

Of his continued fight on the side of cannabis, Don Young had this to say in a Twitter thread posted in December of 2020, “I am a passionate supporter of a states’ rights approach to cannabis policy.

For too long, the Federal government has stood in the way of states that have acted to set their own marijuana policy, and it is past time Congress modernized these outdated laws. As co-founder of the House Cannabis Caucus, I have fought hard to get the Federal government out of the way of state-level policymaking. It is crucial that our work continues in the 117th Congress.”

The nation lost a champion this week, but his work will never be forgotten in the fight for federal legalization will never be forgotten.

The Executive Director of NORML, Erik Altieri, mourned his passing in a statement earlier this week, which reads, in part, “His leadership and candor will be missed in the ongoing fight for marijuana justice, but when our disastrous marijuana policies are finally relegated to the waste bin of history, he will have played a significant role in that societal transformation.”

Don Young was a beloved member of the US House of Representatives, and his legacy in fighting cannabis reform will live on for generations to come.

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