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Civil Rights Groups Push To End Criminalization Of Marijuana And Other Drugs

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A coalition of more than 100 civil rights groups—including ACLU, NAACP, National Education Association and National Organization for Women—released a criminal justice reform platform for the 2020 elections on Thursday that calls for the legalization of marijuana and supports the “dismantling” of the criminalization of other drugs.

As part of the document’s plank on ending the war on drugs, the organizations said states should “legalize marijuana through a racial justice framework that focuses on access, equity, and repairing the damage of prohibition” and the federal government should end cannabis prohibition and “implement marijuana reform through a racial justice lens.”

They pointed to a bill recently introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) as an example of legalization legislation that would meet their standard.

But because passing such a bill will take time, the coalition said the Justice Department should immediately reinstate Obama-era guidance that directed federal prosecutors to generally stay out of the way of state cannabis law implementation.

The platform, called “Vision for Justice 2020 and Beyond,” also encourages decriminalizing possession of all drugs as well as certain trafficking offenses that “over the last 40 years have caused an explosion in our incarcerated population.”

But the groups said even simple decriminalization isn’t enough and argued that officials should “work toward dismantling the current paradigm of drug criminalization and replacing the current system with a regulatory approach that treats substance use as a public health issue.”

That would be achieved through “investments in medical care, mental health care, community empowerment, and other evidence-based wellness practices that reduce overdose deaths, such as syringe and naloxone programs, drug checking, safe consumption spaces, and medication-assisted treatment.”

“The failed War on Drugs has devastated thousands of communities, particularly those of color, while overwhelming our jails and prisons. We must immediately end these failed policies and proactively invest in those communities that have been harmed most.”

The groups also said that the Drug Enforcement Administration should be overhauled and all federal agencies dealing with drugs should take a public health approach to the issue that focuses on harm reduction and treatment.

Money saved by implementing these reform proposals should be used “to rebuild those communities that have been most damaged by the War on Drugs, including by providing resources to address addiction and other behavioral health issues,” the platform states.

In addition to these drug-specific policy positions, the coalition also wants to “dismantle and reverse all harmful policies” of the 1994 crime bill that former Vice President Joe Biden (D) helped author and replace them with a “modern 21st century public safety bill.”

Civil asset forfeiture, for-profit prisons, mandatory minimum sentences and the death penalty should also be ended, says the platform, which was shared with presidential candidates.

“The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other developed nation, with more than 6.6 million people under some form of institutionalized restraint—an undue proportion of whom are Brown or Black,” Vanita Gupta, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which led the 117 groups that signed onto the platform, said in a press release. “We simply cannot live up to the values we profess if we don’t end mass incarceration and eliminate the deep racial bias entrenched in the current system.”

“We offer this comprehensive roadmap to create a new way to approach public safety, rebalancing spending and prioritizing upfront investments in the communities that most urgently need them,” she said. “It is time to remove the stain that has lingered on our democracy as a result of an excessively punitive system. The solutions we offer are actionable tools we can use to begin that process.”

The groups also expressed concern about criminal laws targeting poverty, mental health, disability and homelessness.

“All reforms must produce decarceral results and work to end racial and economic inequity,” they said. “All reforms, as they shrink the criminal-legal system, must invest resources in those communities that have been most harmed by mass incarceration and mass criminalization.”

Voting rights should be restored for those currently and formerly incarcerated, restrictions on things like public housing and employment should be eliminated and misdemeanor convictions should be automatically sealed and expunged, they said. The platform also states that certain felony convictions should be expunged over time.

“Throughout the history of this country, the American system of criminal punishment has been used to perpetuate white supremacy, promote inequality, and control marginalized people,” Alec Karakatsanis, founder of Civil Rights Corps, another signee, said. “Vision for Justice lays out actionable policy solutions to begin dismantling those harmful systems and begin meaningful reinvestment in the communities that have been devastated by the system as it stands.”

Other signatories include civil rights groups Color Of Change, Drug Policy Alliance, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Innocence Project, Lambda Legal, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, MomsRising, National Action Network, National Association of Social Workers, People For the American Way, The Legal Aid Society and The Southern Poverty Law Center.

“The treatment of communities of color in the criminal-legal system is the most profound civil rights crisis facing America in the 21st century,” they wrote. “This platform seeks to remove this moral stain on our democracy by offering specific, measurable steps to begin to transform the system.”

New Effort Aims To Erase A Quarter Of A Million Marijuana Convictions From Records 

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Bipartisan Lawmakers Circulate Letter Urging FDA To Back Off CBD Companies

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A bipartisan pair of lawmakers are circulating a sign-on letter asking colleagues to join them in urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to back off companies that are selling CBD products in a responsible manner.

The “Dear Colleague” letter, which is being led by Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and James Comer (R-KY), emphasizes that hemp and CBD were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill and argues that the lack of regulations for such products is creating industry uncertainty that’s inhibiting economic opportunities.

The letter was first reported by the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, which is asking its supporters to encourage their representatives to sign on.

FDA has said it is in the process of developing rules for the non-intoxicating compound, including a potential alternative regulatory pathway allowing for CBD to be added to the food supply and as dietary supplements. That could take years, however, as former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has noted.

In the meantime, the agency is being selective about enforcement action against companies that make unsanctioned claims about their products while also maintaining that all businesses selling CBD food items are violating the law.

The lawmakers aren’t satisfied. They described FDA’s regulatory timeframe as “untenable,” particularly because the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to release its rules for hemp “any day now,” and an official revealed this month that its draft regulations are currently undergoing final White House and Department of Justice review.

The members of Congress added that FDA’s current approach to CBD has “created significant regulatory and legal uncertainty for participants in this quickly evolving industry.”

“Given the widespread availability of CBD products, growing consumer demand, and the expected surge in the hemp farming in the near future, it’s critical that FDA act quickly to provide legal and regulatory clarity to support this new economic opportunity,” they wrote.

“Please join us in signing this bipartisan letter to Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless urging the agency to adopt a risk-based policy of enforcement discretion that targets bad actors while eliminating uncertainty for responsible industry stakeholders and consumers. Additionally, we are requesting that FDA to issue an interim final rule to regulate CBD as a dietary supplement and food additive.”

In the letter to Sharpless that Pingree and Comer are asking fellow lawmakers to sign, they laid out two requests for FDA.

First, the agency should “promptly issue guidance announcing a policy of enforcement discretion that maintains FDA’s current risk-based enforcement approach towards hemp-derived CBD products.” And second, it should “consider issuing an interim final rule, pending issuance of a permanent final rule, to establish a clear regulatory framework for CBD as a dietary supplement and food additive.”

The lawmakers added that they appreciate that FDA has pursued “enforcement actions against the worst offenders,” but that “it can do so while eliminating regulatory uncertainty for farmers, retailers, and consumers.”

“Without a formal enforcement discretion policy, anyone participating in the growing marketplace for legal hemp-derived products will continue to face significant legal and regulatory uncertainty,” they wrote.

Though issuing guidance on a “policy of enforcement discretion” wouldn’t be a codified law allowing companies to market CBD in the food supply, it would demonstrate to the industry that some protections are in place while FDA continues to navigate the rulemaking process.

Lawmakers have until Tuesday to sign the letter to FDA.

Read the Dear Colleague invitation and CBD letter to FDA below:

Pingree Comer CBD Letter by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

GOP Senate Chair Says He Plans Marijuana Banking Vote

Photo by Kimzy Nanney.

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Marijuana Banking Bill Will Get A Full House Floor Vote This Month

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A bipartisan bill to protect banks that service marijuana businesses will get a House floor vote by the end of the month, the office of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) confirmed to Marijuana Moment on Friday.

House leadership announced the decision to Democratic lawmakers at a closed-door meeting on Thursday.

“Mr. Hoyer said at the Whip meeting yesterday that he intends to move it this month,” a Hoyer staffer said in an email. “We’re discussing it with Members, but it hasn’t been scheduled just yet.”

Prior to confirmation from Hoyer’s office, four sources initially described the development to Marijuana Moment, with some saying the vote would be made under suspension of the rules—a procedure that is generally reserved for non-controversial legislation.

Voting on suspension would require two-thirds of the chamber (290 members) to vote in favor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in order for it to pass. The bill, which cleared the House Financial Services Committee in March, currently has 206 cosponsors, including 26 Republicans.

No amendments would be allowed to be added on the floor under the suspension process.

Problems could arise if lawmakers aren’t able to rally additional votes from conservative members or if there’s pushback over the strategy from progressive lawmakers, though it is unlikely Democratic leadership would advance the bill if they didn’t believe they have the votes for passage.

While interest in resolving the banking issue is generally bipartisan, it’s within reason to assume that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle might have wanted the opportunity to offer provisions such as extending protections to hemp businesses or adding language promoting social equity policies. That said, it is possible that leadership could file an entirely new piece of legislation that is similar to the SAFE Banking Act but contains modified provisions negotiated with key members and use that as the vehicle for floor action.

Many expected cannabis banking legislation to receive a floor vote before the August recess, but that did not come to fruition.

In any case, the development comes as the Senate Banking Committee is also preparing to hold a vote on marijuana banking legislation, with Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) announcing on Thursday that his panel is “working to try to get a bill ready.” He didn’t offer a timeline, however, other than saying he hoped to advance the legislation by the end of the year.

While sources told Marijuana Moment that Hoyer made his decision to allow cannabis banking vote following an earlier Wednesday meeting on the issue, it is likely that building momentum in the GOP-controlled Senate added to pressure on the House to act so that Democrats wouldn’t be seen as lagging behind Republicans on cannabis reform, an issue the party has sought to take political ownership of.

Following Crapo’s statement on advancing the banking legislation, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), chief sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, told Marijuana Moment that he welcomes the senator’s “commitment to resolve the banking conflicts that have been created by the misalignment in state and federal law on the issue of cannabis.”

“I remain focused on passing the SAFE Banking Act out of the House and look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate as they take up the SAFE Banking Act or work to develop and pass similar legislation,” he said.

Banking access is largely seen as one of the most achievable pieces of cannabis legislation that stands to pass this Congress. Advocates and reform-minded lawmakers view it as one of the first steps on the path toward ending federal marijuana prohibition.

“We are seeing the blueprint in action and moving forward on critical legislation to protect state legal cannabis banking,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment, referring to a memo he sent to House leadership last year outlining a committee-by-committee process for passing incremental cannabis bills leading up to major legislation to end federal prohibition. “Earlier this summer, the House passed protections for state and tribal cannabis laws. In the most cannabis friendly Congress in history, we need to keep up this momentum. There is still much to be done.”

There has been some disagreement within advocacy circles about whether it’s prudent to pass legislation viewed as primarily favorable to the industry before advancing comprehensive legislation that deschedules cannabis and takes steps to repair the harms of prohibition enforcement.

“It is our hope that after the successful passage of the SAFE Banking Act in the House, we will be able to advance legislation that ends the federal criminalization of cannabis once and for all,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Now is our time to demonstrate that marijuana law reform is both good policy and good politics.”

“We will not stop until otherwise law-abiding Americans are no longer discriminated against or criminalized due to the past or future choice to consume cannabis,” he said.

Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, told Marijuana Moment that the group is “delighted that the U.S. House of Representatives is on the brink of passing a landmark piece of cannabis policy legislation that modernizes our antiquated banking laws to reflect the will of the people.”

“This is welcomed and long overdue news for the over 200,000 employees that work in the industry, cannabis businesses, and for public safety in the communities in which we operate,” he said. “Once the SAFE Banking Act passes the U.S. House, we call on the U.S. Senate to move quickly to protect our businesses and our workers.”

Pressure has been building all year from stakeholders and policymakers alike to get the legislation passed. Endorsements aren’t just coming from reform groups, either; 50 state banking associations, the National Association of State Treasurers, the top financial regulators of 25 states, a majority of state attorneys general and bipartisan governors of 20 states have also voiced support for the SAFE Banking Act.

Earlier this month, the head of the American Bankers Association predicted that the bill would be passed in the House “as early as September.”

GOP Senate Chair Says He Plans Marijuana Banking Vote

This story was updated to add comment from Perlmutter and Hoyer’s office.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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New ‘Marijuana 1-to-3 Act’ Would Reclassify Cannabis Under Federal Law

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Another bill to reschedule marijuana was filed in Congress on Thursday.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) introduced the legislation, which is titled the “Marijuana 1-to-3 Act.” True to its name, the bill would simply require the attorney general to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act, with the aim of increasing research on the drug’s effects.

“As marijuana is legalized for medical and recreational use across the United States, it is important that we study the effects of the substance and the potential impacts it can have on various populations,” Steube said in a press release. “By rescheduling marijuana from a schedule I controlled substance to a schedule III controlled substance, the opportunities for research and study are drastically expanded.

“With this rescheduling, researchers can now access federal funds to research this substance and determine its medical value,” he said.

The press release came hours after a bipartisan pair of lawmakers introduced separate legislation to reschedule marijuana, also to Schedule III.

That bill contained additional provisions that would require federal agencies to develop research agendas for marijuana within one year of its enactment and also establish a system whereby universities could be designated as “Centers of Excellence in Cannabis Research” if they conducted comprehensive studies on issues related to marijuana.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is a sponsor of the broader research bill, is also cosponsoring Steube’s more focused rescheduling proposal.

It’s not clear why Steube chose to file his own reclassification bill or whether the other legislation’s additional provisions were a factor.

The congressman’s two-page bill states that “the Attorney General of the United States shall, by order not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this section, transfer marijuana…from schedule I of such Act to schedule III of such Act.”

“We hear every day about the positive health benefits of marijuana,” Steube said. “Whether it’s young children with seizure disorders, or veterans suffering from chronic pain, it is clear that there are medical benefits to marijuana and I think it’s time we remove the bureaucratic red tape that prevents us from thoroughly studying this substance.”

While he emphasized that the intent of his legislation is to encourage research into marijuana, placing cannabis in Schedule III would also have implications for marijuana businesses, who are currently ineligible for federal tax deductions under an Internal Revenue Code section that applies to anyone “trafficking in controlled substances” in Schedule I or II.

Read the full text of the bill below: 

Marijuana 1-to-3[1] by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Former Anti-Legalization Clinton Cabinet Official Files Marijuana Reclassification Bill In Congress

Photo by Ndispensable.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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