A major congressional caucus is rolling out a new agenda that includes legalizing marijuana within the first six months of 2021.
On Monday, the Congressional Progressive Caucus unveiled the platform, which covers seven main planks such as COVID-19 relief, health care and racial justice. That last platform addresses cannabis legalization as well as broader criminal justice reforms like expunging prior records.
In order to dismantle racism and racial inequality, Congress must “reduce criminalization and incarceration through sentencing reform, legalizing cannabis, expunging records, and providing restorative justice,” the new People’s Agenda states.
“The People’s Agenda is the culmination of months of works to identify our shared progressive priorities for the start of the new Congress,” the caucus co-chair, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), said in a press release. “Congress must govern with the urgency that this moment requires and restore power to the hands of the people.”
When it comes to cannabis reform, the House did advance a comprehensive bill to federally legalize the plant earlier this month. But it’s very unlikely that the GOP-controlled Senate will take it up before the end of the session.
While legalization is being prioritized by the Progressive Caucus, the prospects of enacting that policy change within the next two years will likely be decided by the results of two Senate runoffs in Georgia next month. If Democrats win both, they will regain majority control of the chamber and potentially have enough votes to push the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act through, with the bill’s current Senate sponsor, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (D-CA), as a tie-breaker.
“Look, if you’re in Georgia right now, you will control whether weed get legalized or not based upon whether you go out and vote,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said in an interview last week.
“The criminalization of poverty and the failed ‘War on Drugs’ have been key drivers of mass incarceration and racial injustice,” a supporting factsheet for the new caucus agenda prepared by the Institute for Policy Studies,Kairos, Repairers of the Breach, and Poor People’s Campaign states.
The document cites reports from the Drug Policy Alliance and ACLU showing that Black people are more likely to be arrested for drug offenses including marijuana despite comparable usage rates across races.
“The CPC gets it,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment of the nearly 100-member caucus. “We appreciate them putting legalization front and center on the priority agenda for the new Congress.”
One outstanding question is whether President-elect Joe Biden would ultimately sign a legalization bill if it was approved by Congress. He’s remained opposed to broad reform despite supermajority support within his party and currently backs only modest changes like decriminalizing possession, expunging records, legalizing medical cannabis, federal rescheduling and letting states set their own marijuana laws.
But in any case, the People’s Agenda is at least symbolically significant, demonstrating again that there will be pressure on the administration to adopt progressive policies—and that includes legalizing cannabis.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.