WASHINGTON, D.C. - The first bipartisan push for marijuana reform is now making its way through Washington, and Hawaii Congresswoman and 2020 presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard is the top Democrat behind the bill.

On Capitol Hill Thursday, she formally renewed the age-old fight.

“We must end the federal prohibition on marijuana now,” Gabbard said during a news conference.

Alongside Alaska’s Don Young and industry advocates, Gabbard outlined a pair of bills that would remove marijuana from the list of federal controlled substances. Their plan wouldn’t legalize recreational or medical marijuana.Instead, it would allow states the freedom to regulate pot as they choose without federal interference.

“Our jails are overcrowded and have been overcrowded with non-violent crimes,” said U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus who, on Wednesday also became the longest-serving Republican in U.S. House history with 46 years of service. “We don’t look at the money we’ve lost and the lives we’ve lost.”

“It’s created such a strain on our prison system,” Gabbard said speaking of the Hawaii correctional institution. The problem is so bad, she said, that “people are shipped out of state to prisons on the mainland.”

Harry Kelso knows the problem all too well. In 2008, he was sentenced to ten years in a Virginia prison for possession when he was in college. The sentence includes a five-year mandatory minimum per count.

“My cellmate was jailed for shooting somebody five times in the stomach and he got less time than I did,” Kelso said.

Gabbard and Young are introducing a second bill that would study the health and economic effects of both recreational and medical marijuana, and what role both could play in battling the opioid crisis.

Unlike previous bills that attempted to de-schedule or decriminalize marijuana, this one may actually gain some traction in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate. That’s after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) included a provision in the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized industrial hemp, marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin that does not include THC. 

Gabbard remains hopeful that McConnell’s provision – which received President Trump’s signature – and his endorsement of a similar substance is a stepping stone for her proposal.

“Passing this legislation would unleash all of that potential in communities, especially like mine in Hawaii that can grow industrial hemp all year ‘round,” she added.

Hawaii is among the 33 states that have legalized medical marijuana so far; Alaska is one of ten to legalize both recreational and medical marijuana.

And if Congress doesn’t see the statistics, Gabbard hopes they will look to the growing number of states that are legalizing it through referendum or the legislature as proof that the time is right. 

If not the states, then their own constituents may be persuading things. An Oct. 2018 Gallup poll showed 66 percent of Americans believe pot should be legal, evidence there is high support for an evolving industry.