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Congressional Black Caucus Calls For Major Marijuana Reforms

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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.

The announcement comes a month after CBC members included marijuana descheduling in a wide-ranging bill to foster racial justice and stimulate job growth.

Congressional Black Caucus Pushes Major Marijuana Reforms

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.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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