It’s not just traditional advocates and stakeholders who are fed up with Senate inaction on marijuana legalization. Even the ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s is calling out senators for failing to advance reform.
In the run-up to the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20 on Wednesday, the company is launching a campaign in partnership with the ACLU, asking fans to “take action” by putting pressure on the Senate to follow the lead of the House and pass a bill to end prohibition.
Ben & Jerry’s recognized that its advocacy for marijuana reform isn’t surprising—and they’ve previously leveraged 4/20 to raise attention to the issue—but this campaign takes direct aim at the Senate, which has been a significant roadblock on the path to legalization both under Republican and Democratic control.
Ice cream fans and supporters of legalization are being encouraged to submit a pre-written letter to their senators that describes the currently patchwork of state cannabis policies and the racially disparate harms of prohibition. It says that “it’s time for the Senate to act.”
The company noted that the House approved the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act earlier this month. And while Senate leadership had signaled that they would be introducing a similar legalization bill this month, that timeline has been pushed back, much to the disappointment of advocates.
“The Black and Brown community have borne the high cost of cannabis prohibition and the system of mass incarceration that it has fueled, while white men reap the financial benefits of the legalized cannabis industry,” Chris Miller, global head of activism strategy at Ben & Jerry’s, said in a press release. “That’s why the Senate must immediately pass legislation that begins to right the wrongs of the decades long war on drugs by legalizing cannabis and expunging records while restoring equity to the booming legal cannabis industry.”
“Legalizing cannabis without justice is Half Baked!” the company said, in a reference to one of its popular flavors, which itself is a reference to a classic stoner comedy film of that name.
It’s hard to get excited about #420 when people of color are still being arrested for cannabis — even in states that have legalized it. We have to do better. Learn more and take action now: https://t.co/dbDtveQgG5 pic.twitter.com/GXV7gWhAg3
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) April 18, 2022
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) released a discussion draft of their Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act (CAOA) last year. Prior to announcing that the filing of the bill would come later than expected, Schumer said that he and colleagues were in the process of reaching out to Republican senators to “see what they want” included in the legislation.
Now, Ben & Jerry’s and the ACLU are joining the chorus of voices saying that they’re tired of waiting, and urgent action is needed. If a person unfamiliar with the brand currently visits Ben & Jerry’s site, they might not even realize that it’s for the largest ice cream seller in the country, rather than a cannabis advocacy organization.
This is what the Ben & Jerry’s homepage looks like as of Monday:
“For too long, America’s drug laws have been unequally applied at great cost to Black and Brown communities. While no law can undo lifetimes of injustice, our nation must immediately take basic steps that an overwhelming majority of Americans support,” Cynthia Roseberry, deputy director of policy at the ACLU, said, adding that this campaign is about “bringing the voice of Americans to their policymakers in the Capitol.”
According to a poll released last week, a majority of Democrats believe that legalizing marijuana should be a top or important priority for Congress—and that the issue has significant support from voters in general.
Meanwhile, several Republican members of Congress introduced a bill last November to federally legalize and tax marijuana as an alternative to far-reaching Democratic-led reform proposals and scaled-down GOP cannabis descheduling legislation. The sponsor of that bill, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), said she expects a committee hearing on her proposal.
A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers filed a bill last week that would simply direct the attorney general to create a commission charged with making recommendations on a regulatory system for marijuana that models what’s currently in place for alcohol.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.