The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is calling on the federal government to end its war on marijuana.
“The CBC supports efforts to decriminalize the use and possession of marijuana,” reads a new position statement that the 48-member group released on Friday. “This means that the states should be allowed to make their own decisions about how to regulate marijuana and the federal government should be out of the business of prohibition and related law enforcement of marijuana.”
Citing ongoing racial disparities in drug law enforcement and the way that communities have been “ravaged by the failed War on Drugs,” CBC is calling for “automatic expungement for those convicted of misdemeanors for marijuana-related offenses, and an easy path to expungement for those previously convicted of felonies for marijuana-related offenses.”
“People should not have to suffer today for previously illegal behavior that is now allowable in their community.”
The lawmakers also want marijuana to be reclassified under federal law, saying that its current Schedule I status is undermined by the fact that “90% of American states allow for the use of medical marijuana.”
“Some of the same folks who told African Americans ‘three strikes and you’re out’ when it came to marijuana use and distribution, are now in support of decriminalizing the drug and making a profit off of it,” CBC Chairman Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA) said in a press release. “The Congressional Black Caucus supports decriminalizing marijuana and investing in communities that were destroyed by the War on Drugs – which, in addition to being a failed war, was a war on black and brown communities. We also support expunging the records of those previously convicted of misdemeanors for marijuana-related offenses.”
The new position, which was supported by an overwhelming majority of the Caucus, was first reported by the Associated Press.
— Black Caucus (@OfficialCBC) June 8, 2018
The announcement comes a month after CBC members included marijuana descheduling in a wide-ranging bill to foster racial justice and stimulate job growth.
This week, Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), a hero of the civil rights movement who was beaten bloody during a 1965 march for voting rights, signed onto a separate bill called the Marijuana Justice Act. That legislation would not only remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act but would also withhold federal funding from states with discriminatory marijuana enforcement. Funds saved would then be invested in job training, public libraries and other services.
Read the CBC’s full marijuana position below:
· Black communities have been disproportionately policed and convicted for drug offenses and the CBC supports reforms that would reduce the number of black people in prison and being sentenced to prison while concurrently investing in communities that have been ravaged by the failed War on Drugs.
· The CBC supports efforts to decriminalize the use and possession of marijuana. This means that the states should be allowed to make their own decisions about how to regulate marijuana and the federal government should be out of the business of prohibition and related law enforcement of marijuana.
· The CBC supports the rescheduling of marijuana. Its current classification as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is inappropriate and problematic, especially since 90% of American states allow for the use of medical marijuana, which defies the CSA’s determination that marijuana “has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States”.
o Rescheduling marijuana will allow needed research to proceed on the long-term impacts of marijuana use and will remove the prospect of criminal prosecution for those following state laws.
· The CBC supports restorative federal investments in communities that have been ravaged by the failed War on Drugs, of which marijuana prohibition is a major component.
o 40% of federally convicted drug offenders are black.
o 12% of drug offenders in the prison population are for marijuana offenses.
o 14% of the drug offenders’ population is African American.
o A majority of convicted offenders receive felony sentences.
The implications of these statistics are severe. Families are torn apart, local economies are negatively impacted, and ex-offenders are disenfranchised.
· The CBC also supports the automatic expungement for those convicted of misdemeanors for marijuana-related offenses, and an easy path to expungement for those previously convicted of felonies for marijuana-related offenses. People should not have to suffer today for previously illegal behavior that is now allowable in their community.
· The CBC supports extensive research into the long-term health effects of marijuana use. Due to its prohibition, the ability of the public and the academic community to study marijuana has been severely restricted. The CBC encourages more studies into marijuana’s impact on human health, especially its impact on the mental and physical development of young people.
The Congressional Black Caucus was established in 1971 and has a historic 48 members for the 115th Congress, including one Republican member and two senators. Congressman Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA-02) is the chair of the caucus.
More State Political Parties Endorse Marijuana Legalization
Delegates at Democratic party conventions in two separate states voted to add marijuana legalization planks to their official platforms this weekend.
In Texas, Democrats embraced a policy to “legalize possession and use of marijuana and its derivatives and to regulate its use, production and sale as is successfully done in Colorado, Washington and other States.” Delegates also called on the immediate legalization of medical marijuana, the removal of cannabis from the list of federally banned substances and the release of individuals convicted of marijuana possession, as well as the expungement of records for individuals convicted of marijuana-related misdemeanors.
A separate plank adopted by the party embraces the “legalization of hemp for agricultural purposes.”
The language of the planks is similar to the Texas Democratic Party’s current platform, which also called for marijuana decriminalization and the regulation of the “use, cultivation, production, and sale [of cannabis] as is done with tobacco and alcohol.”
The move comes about a week after the state’s Republican party delegates approved platform planks to decriminalize cannabis, expand the state’s medical marijuana program, reschedule marijuana under federal law and push forward with hemp reform.
In New Hampshire, Democratic delegates also voted in favor of adding a platform plank to legalize cannabis. “We believe that marijuana should be legalized, taxed, and regulated,” the Granite State Dems’ new plank reads. Delegates at the convention also approved a resolution supporting the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
The passage of the pro-legalization plank in New Hampshire reflects a significant policy evolution—but the path to its approval wasn’t necessarily smooth. There was debate among party officials about the initial language of the plank, which said the state should “treat cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol.” The plank was changed to satisfy some members who took issue with the reference to alcohol, The Concord Monitor reported. Even so, not all members were on board with the plank, with House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff arguing that the party should wait until a legislative commission studying the impact of legalization in the state submits its report in November.
That the party’s delegates went ahead and adopted the legal marijuana endorsement is “an encouraging development that bodes very well for the future of cannabis policy in New Hampshire,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “After several years of modest, incremental reforms being obstructed by previous Democratic Governors John Lynch and Maggie Hassan, it’s great to see that the party, and both of its gubernatorial candidates, are now embracing legalization and regulation.”
New Hampshire’s Republican party has not taken up legalization as a platform plank.
The Texas and New Hampshire Dems joined the ranks of several others that approved similar platform positions.
In May, the Democratic Party of New York endorsed a resolution supporting “the legalization of marijuana which should be regulated and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol.” Connecticut’s Democratic party also adopted a platform plank this year stating that “[t]he time for legalization of Marijuana has come.”
“Doing so will raise revenue, which can be used to benefit those suffering from the disease of addiction to prescription pain medications and other opioids.”
And from California to Wisconsin, Democratic party delegates across the country officially backed marijuana legalization in 2016—and numerous others threw their support behind more modest cannabis reform policies such as decriminalization. Iowa’s Democratic party went even further, calling for the legalization of all drugs.
That same year, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) approved the first-ever major party platform to include a plank embracing a “reasoned pathway for future legalization” and the rescheduling of cannabis under federal law.
“We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.”
The growing support for legalization among Democratic state parties appears to reflect a similar trend in public opinion toward cannabis reform nationally. A recent poll found that a record 68 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal. That includes a majority of Republicans. While federal lawmakers have generally been slower to adopt pro-legalization stances, a number of bipartisan bills have also been introduced in recent months that aim to reform the country’s cannabis laws.
James Comey Weighs In On Marijuana Legalization
Former FBI Director James Comey, at the center of a wide-ranging investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice, has been asked many times what he thinks about the rule of law and related matters during the course of a publicity tour for his new book.
On Friday, he was asked to share his thoughts about marijuana legalization.
“The experiment is underway in the United States and I think the jury is still out on it,” Comey said.
“What I like about what’s going on in the U.S. is we call the states the laboratories of democracy, and allow the people in the states to experiment — experiment is probably the wrong word in this context — but to make choices, to try and figure out the best way not to overcriminalize behavior that people want to engage in, but also not to reward behavior that might hurt especially young people.”
While the former top federal cop indicated he supports letting states implement cannabis policies that are in conflict with U.S. laws, he’s not yet ready to personally endorse legalization.
“I’d like to see how it goes and what the natural break on it is. Does it really lead down a slippery slope to other drugs?” he said in the interview with LBC in the UK. “And there’s emerging science about the the dangers to the brain of smoked marijuana. Smoked marijuana is not medicine, and so I honestly don’t know.”
“I think it’s worth experimenting with relaxation, talking about it, but monitoring it very closely.”
See Comey’s marijuana comments, roughly 18:50 into the clip below:
In 2014, as FBI director, Comey made headlines by suggesting that he wanted to relax the bureau’s employment policies with respect to drug use.
“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” he said at the time.
He walked the comments back days later in response to questioning from then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, who now serves as U.S. attorney general.
“I was trying to be both serious and funny,” Comey said in response to the “disappointed” senator.
Photo courtesy of FBI.
Marijuana Legalization Bill Moves Forward In U.S. Territory
About a week after a U.S. territory hit a snag on the road to full marijuana legalization, a committee made several revisions to the bill that are expected to clear the path to passage.
Lawmakers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) seemed set to put a legalization bill to a full House of Representatives vote on June 12, but the bill was unexpectedly sent back to the chamber’s Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations (JGO).
That same committee previously unanimously approved the legislation in May. It also passed in the territory’s full Senate that month.
Upon referral, the committee made a number of revisions, including the removal of licensing fees for statutory reasons and the addition of a policy that bans regulatory commissioners from participating in the program if they’ve been convicted of a crime within the last 15 years, legalization advocate Gerry Palacios of Sensible CNMI told Marijuana Moment. Because two sections regarding cannabis use and sales for individuals under 21 contradicted each other, one was struck from the legislation.
One question still needs to be resolved by lawmakers: the JGO recommended a recess until July 2 in order to clear up whether fines levied against individuals who violate the law would be counted as “revenue generators.” If the commission determines that these fines are not a part of the revenue stream, the fines provision will remain in the bill. (Revenue generation legislation is supposed to originate in the House — and not the Senate, where the legalization bill was first filed.)
Another change the committee made to the bill on Thursday would speed up the timeline for implementing legalization. The JGO amended the legislation to require that the CNMI Cannabis Commission would be created within 30 days of the passage of the bill instead of 90 days.
“These changes were made for clarification and constitutional purposes for speedy passage of the bill,” Palacios said. “The goal is to keep the intent and integrity of the bill intact while at the same time addressing issues on interpretation of its language.”
“Once the JGO convenes on July 2 after clarification on [the] ‘fines’ issue, they will move to adopt and push for full House review.”
So that’s where the state of cannabis legalization in the U.S. jurisdiction stands. Advocates tell Marijuana Moment that the Senate is likely to OK the changes recommended by the committee, but it’s unclear when a full House vote will take place at this point. If the bill ultimately passes, CNMI will be the first U.S. territory to fully legalize without a preexisting medical cannabis system in place.
“The Senate will have no problem with these changes as long as the bill’s integrity and intent are kept.”
That said, the territory’s governor, Ralph Torres, expressed concerns earlier this month about the potential impact of legalization on public health and crime.
“In the nine states that have legalized marijuana, have we seen an increase in crime?,” he asked, according to Marianas Variety. “If there is, what is the nature of these crimes? We should look at this and other things. I am concerned about public safety issues.”
Here’s what the bill would accomplish
- Adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess, grow and consume cannabis.
- CNMI would establish a regulatory system to produce, process and manage retail sales of marijuana.
- Tax revenue from marijuana sales would go toward funding the regulatory system and other government services.