WASHINGTON (CN) — To lock up to blaze? That was the senators’ question on Tuesday as the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism considered legislation that would decriminalize weed at the federal level.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Senators Cory Booker and Ron Wyden introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act last week after more than a year of anticipation, and the proposed law was submitted to the committee for consideration on Tuesday.
The bill would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, impose a federal tax on the sale of marijuana, and erase non-violent marijuana convictions from criminal records.
Trafficking cannabis products into states that have not legalized these products would still be a federal crime, and it would be up to the states to decide whether or not to legalize the weed.
Medical marijuana is currently legal in more than half of the country, and 19 states have legalized recreational use for adults 21 and older.
Cannabis is a booming industry in the United States, with infused drinks, boutique dispensaries and designer marijuana strains entering the market in states that have legalized the herb, but criminalization in others jurisdictions continues to perpetuate racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Dr. Malik Burnett, medical director of the Maryland Department of Health’s Center for Harm Reduction Services, described this phenomenon as “the story of two Americas.”
Booker, chairman of the subcommittee and the only black senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the federal criminalization of cannabis has “failed miserably” and led to a “festering injustice” of selectively enforced drug laws targeting disproportionately black and brown communities.
Nationally, according to a 2020 ACLU report, a black person is nearly four times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than a white person, despite the fact that marijuana use is also common among racial groups.
“Cannabis laws are applied unevenly and devastate the lives of the most vulnerable people,” Booker said during Tuesday’s hearing.
The bill would expunge criminal records for federal marijuana charges and allow people currently being held in federal prison for a nonviolent marijuana-related crime to seek a new sentence.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Missouri denounced the legislation, alleging that it “would expunge the criminal records of illegal alien traffickers”.
“When these criminals trafficked in marijuana, they broke the law. Whether some find this law old-fashioned or even unfair, what they did was illegal,” Cotton said.
Weldon Angelos, who was sentenced to 55 years in prison for possessing several pounds of marijuana as well as a firearm and was later pardoned by former President Donald Trump, told the committee that expungement is an essential legislation to address what he sees as a racially motivated marijuana ban.
“Every arrest, prosecution, conviction and conviction makes the world a little smaller for those who wear the modern scarlet letter,” Angelos said, referring to what it’s like to live with a drug conviction.
When Angelos was first released, he said his felony conviction made it difficult to get an apartment or a job and restart his life, even after a presidential pardon.
Several provisions of the legislation target bipartisan interests, including provisions that would provide grants to small law enforcement agencies to train personnel and target illegal marijuana sales and production, and additional grants that would go to small law enforcement agencies. marijuana companies owned by people disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.
It would also order the Department of Transportation to create a three-year national standard for driving under the influence of marijuana and set the age for the purchase of marijuana products at 21.
Annapolis Police Department Chief Edward Jackson testified in support of the bill, saying “there is nothing inherently violent” about cannabis.
Jackson claimed that decriminalization would both improve community confidence in the police and allow officers to focus on violent and priority crimes.
“I’ve spent far too long arresting people for selling and possessing cannabis,” Jackson said.
The bill would also remove drug testing requirements for federal employees except those working in security, law enforcement or transportation.
Parts of the bill also seek to create FDA serving size standards and potency information for marijuana products.
Under the bill, the FDA and the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade, not the Drug Enforcement Agency, would become responsible for federal cannabis policy.
The legislation comes more than 50 years after Congress banned marijuana federally and at a time when legalization is gaining popularity.
Senate Democrats released a bill last year and spent months tailoring the legislation to bipartisan interests in a bid to boost his chances of passing the equally divided Senate, though his chance of passage remains slim.
The House passed legislation similar to the Senate bill in April, but it lacked several of the Senate bill’s provisions and included a different tax rate for businesses.
For the measure to survive in the Senate, it needs the support of all Democrats and 10 Republicans in the chamber, a noble task given that not all Senate Democrats have signaled support for decriminalizing marijuana.
Additionally, President Joe Biden has publicly opposed the legalization of weed at the federal level, raising questions about whether he would sign a marijuana bill even if he makes his way through the tumultuous senate.
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