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House Measure Pushes For Equal Access To Marijuana Industry

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People of color have been disproportionately punished under decades of marijuana prohibition laws, but restrictive rules in many states largely block many communities that have been targeted by the war on drugs from participating in the legal cannabis industry.

A new resolution filed in Congress on Thursday seeks to change that.

“The communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition are benefiting the least from the legal marijuana marketplace,” reads the measure, introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA). “The House of Representatives encourages States and localities to adopt best practices and take bold steps…to address disparities in the cannabis marketplace participation and to address, reverse, and repair the most egregious effects of the war on drugs on communities of color, in particular to those who now hold criminal records for a substance that is now legal and regulated.”

The resolution highlights several areas where states with legal marijuana can do better, including by keeping licensing and application fees low, moving to automatically expunge cannabis convictions, eliminating restrictions on industry participation by people with marijuana arrest records and using tax revenue to fund community reinvestment, among others.

“There’s no question that there is growing momentum – both within Congress and nationwide – for cannabis legalization,” Lee said in a press release. “However, as we move into this new era, we must learn from the failed War on Drugs and ensure that entrepreneurs of color are included in this expanding industry. Due to unequal criminalization rates and disparities in access to capital, people of color are being locked out of the new and thriving legal cannabis trade.”

“We need to address the systemic exclusion and discrimination at play. Otherwise, we will be prolonging and encouraging the injustices of the past – where brown men spend their lives in prison for cannabis, while white communities get rich off the industry.”

The measure is titled the RESPECT Resolution, short for Realizing Equitable & Sustainable Participation in Emerging Cannabis Trades.

“As more and more states dial back the war on marijuana consumers, it is important that those who were impacted by this oppressive criminalization are able to see previous harms remedied and be provided the opportunity to participate in the benefits that come along with legalization and regulation,” said Justin Strekal, political director for NORML. “It is absolutely crucial that future legalization efforts include avenues to expunge prior criminal convictions for actions which are now 100% legal.”

Earlier this week, a separate resolution demanding that Congress apologize for the failed and discriminatory war on drugs was filed.

New Resolution Demands Congress Apologize For Failed Drug War

“This is groundbreaking cannabis legislation that addresses the effects of the war on drugs and how to create a fair and equitable industry while others ignore the opportunity and say it cannot be done,” Shanita Penny, president of the Board of Directors of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, said of the Lee resolution. “We will continue our work to ensure that thoughtful resolutions to this issue are put forth and that cannabis legislation is holistic in solving past problems and preventing future travesties like the drug war and the exclusion of the communities most impacted by it as this industry continues to grow.”

The measure has at least 13 initial cosponsors.

“The systemic prejudice of the failed war on drugs is a stain on America’s history,” said Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). “As these outdated and discriminatory policies come to an end, we must address the damage done to communities of color and ensure equal access to the growing cannabis economy.”

See a summary of the new resolution’s provisions below:

RESPECT Resolution

Background:

The “RESPECT Resolution: Realizing Equitable & Sustainable Participation in Emerging Cannabis Trades” elevates the importance of equity within the legal cannabis marketplace. This resolution aims to address disparities and proactively addressing and repairing the most egregious effects of the War on Drugs on communities of color. The RESPECT Resolution seeks both economic and reparative justice, ensuring that disenfranchised communities will be able to benefit equally in the emerging legal and regulated industry.

Summary:

The “RESPECT Resolution” encourages States and localities to adopt best practices already in effect in localities around the country and take bold steps to address, reverse, and repair the most egregious effects of the War on Drugs on communities of color, in particular to those who maintain criminal records for a substance that is now legal and regulated.

Steps Encouraged by Resolution:

Establish licensing and application fees that are reasonable to cover only the costs of program implementation and necessary regulations

Create a system where licensing is to be obtained at the local level and avoids arbitrary caps on licenses, which allows the community to determine the type and number of and results in an industry more representative of the local marketplace

Eliminate broad felony restrictions for licensing and instead focus restrictions on entering the market to those with criminal convictions that are relevant to the owning and operating of a business to be made on a case-by-case basis

Establish a free and automatic process for the expungement and resentencing of penalties for persons previously convicted of cannabis-related crimes for which the criminal penalties have been reduced or removed.

Eliminate the penalizations for persons currently under parole, probation or other state supervision, or released on bail awaiting trial, for conduct otherwise allowed under state cannabis laws.

Combat the vestiges of the War on Drugs by utilizing tax revenue for small business and community reinvestment

Supporting Organizations:

Drug Policy Alliance, NORML, National Association of Social Workers, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, Minority Cannabis Business Association, Cannabis Cultural Association, Defending Rights & Dissent, District Growers, LLC., Protect Families First, StoptheDrugWar.org, San Francisco Drug Users Union, National Cannabis Festival & National Cannabis Policy Summit, Center for Living and Learning, A New PATH, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, National Cannabis Industry Association, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Inc., Denver Relief Consulting

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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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