Congress should move to legalize marijuana, expunge all drug-related records and allow safe consumption sites for illegal substances, lawmakers said in a new House resolution that was introduced on Thursday.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) is leading the measure, which calls for a series of policy changes that are meant to reduce mass incarceration and broadly reform the country’s criminal justice system. She introduced an initial version of resolution last Congress as well with the same drug-related language, but it did not advance.
Drug policy isn’t at the center of the broad proposal, which currently 17 initial cosponsors, but it is one component of a comprehensive call to action from the coalition of Democratic lawmakers. Pressley titled the resolution the “People’s Justice Guarantee,” and it aims to establish a “framework for a fair, equitable and just legal system.”
In order to reduce the incarcerated population, Congress should pursue “decriminalizing addiction, homelessness, poverty, HIV status, and disabilities, including mental health diagnosis, by legalizing marijuana and overdose prevention sites, declining to criminally prosecute low-level offenses such as loitering and theft of necessity goods, and expunging the records of individuals for all drug-related offenses,” the resolution states.
It says that “the time is now for the Federal Government to begin a large-scale decarceration effort to reshape the American legal system.”
The “whereas” section of the legislation notes that most federal inmates who are serving life sentences were convicted over non-violent crimes, “including 30 percent convicted for a drug crime.”
“In this moment, we have an opportunity and responsibility to pursue bold, structural reforms that shift resources away from institutions that perpetuate brutality and injustice and invest in solutions that promote community safety and center the dignity and humanity of all people,” Pressley said in a press release.
“The People’s Justice Guarantee offers a vision of true justice, healing and accountability. It would reduce our prison population and finally usher in an era of mass decarceration,” she said. “Creating a just legal system is a matter of political will—plain and simple—and it’s time we demonstrate the courage necessary to make it a reality.”
Cosponsors of the measure include Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), among others.
It’s been endorsed by a wide range of organizations, including Center for Popular Democracy, Lawyers for Civil Rights, Vera Institute of Justice and more.
While the resolution itself is simply a messaging tool to express the sense of Congress, there are plans in the works in both the House and Senate to pass legislation to actually federally legalize cannabis.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) announced on Thursday that he will be reintroducing the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act this session. The bill, the first version of which cleared the chamber last year, would federally deschedule marijuana and includes a number of provisions to promote social equity.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are in the process of drafting their own legalization bill. They held an initial meeting with advocates last month to inform the legislation.
Read the text of the congressional resolution on criminal justice reform and marijuana legalization below:
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.