Sen. Cory Booker, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Ron Wyden, head of the Senate Finance Committee, reintroduced a revised bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and to remove it from the schedule of federal drug offenses. Congress should pass it for two reasons:
►While attitudes about marijuana use once presented a challenge, this is no longer the case. Most Americans support the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana. Recreational marijuana is now legal in 19 states, as well as Washington, D.C., and medical cannabis is legal in 37 states.
►No one should go to jail or be targeted by police for a nonviolent marijuana-related crime when its use is legal in most states – a point made even more obvious when we look at how ineffective, costly and harsh the enforcement of drug laws are depending on the community.
It’s time to end the patchwork legal system and reform federal law on marijuana.
Schumer drafts bill to federally legalize marijuana
The revised version of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act tackles legal and social reform. The House attempted its own bill to legalize cannabis at the federal level in the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which passed 220-204 along party lines in April but likely won’t pass the Senate.
The revised Senate legislation includes important decriminalization efforts, such as removing marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act, as well as removing it from the purview of the Drug Enforcement Administration to that of other agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration.
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Critically, by decriminalizing the substance, the bill frees up access to the banking system, which marijuana-industry businesses have been barred from because of its criminalization under federal law.
The bill is hardly perfect. It would impose a 25% tax on marijuana sales – a tariff so steep it has the potential to boost the illegal market.
Nevertheless, the legislation is a major step toward justice. This is especially true for people of color, who have been subjected to the most devastating institutionalized discrimination in the justice system, even though they consume drugs about the same rate as white people.
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Critically, the bill’s restorative justice programs to help communities that have been most affected by marijuana’s criminalization (and who have often been cut out from legal profits) aim to ameliorate these historic injustices.
It is a step long overdue.
Aside from decriminalization, other critical provisions in the bill include:
US House passes bill to decriminalize marijuana, allows states to set policies
►A mandate for research on the consequences of marijuana use on highway safety and public health.
►The authorization of federal restrictions on the marketing of marijuana-related products.
►The authorization of grants for state and local governments to consider mitigating factors when deciding whether to expunge or seal convictions for marijuana possession. This is another important step for remedying disparate, race-based treatment by law enforcement and the courts of marijuana users.
For far too long we’ve had a prohibitively expensive, harsh and ineffective federal approach to marijuana offenses. The nation’s policy has led to mass incarceration, disenfranchisement and discrimination against minority groups.
After half a century of a failed war on drugs, the evidence against a patchwork legal system – where some states promote and tax the sale of marijuana while other states still criminalize it – is overwhelming.
The moment for change has come.
This editorial is part of a series by USA TODAY Opinion about police accountability and building safer communities. The project began in 2021 by examining qualified immunity and continues in 2022 by examining various ways to improve law enforcement. The project is made possible in part by a grant from Stand Together, which does not provide editorial input.
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