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Legalization Advocacy Group Demands Biden Appoint A Marijuana-Friendly Attorney General

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A leading marijuana reform organization is demanding that President-elect Joe Biden appoint an attorney general who will take a hands-off approach to state cannabis policies, grant relief to those convicted over low-level possession and recognize the failures of prohibition.

In an email blast and call-to-action, NORML noted that the Trump administration installed two attorneys general who oppose legalization—including one, Jeff Sessions, who rescinded Obama-era guidance that generally discouraged federal prosecutors from intervening in state cannabis laws.

The organization is asking followers to sign a letter to the incoming administration that outlines their recommendations for the next attorney general. About 4,300 people had signed on as of Friday afternoon.

Given that voters in five additional states approved ballot measures to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, NORML said “it is imperative that the incoming Biden-Harris Administration appoint an attorney general who will respect the will of voters and the laws of these states.”

They also pointed out that the current attorney general, William Barr, reportedly used significant departmental resources by directing investigations into 10 marijuana mergers out of personal animus for the industry.

“We cannot allow this sort of Reefer Madness to continue to flourish at the Department of Justice,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in an email. “We have never been closer to ending the cruel policy of prohibition, but we cannot stop pushing now.”

If Biden were to appoint a top federal prosecutor who is committed to taking the modest, discretionary reform steps that the group is calling for, that would also signal to voters that the former vice president will make good on his pledges to decriminalize cannabis and expunge prior marijuana convictions, the call-to-action says.

Here are the specific demands that NORML included in the pre-written letter to Biden:

“Americans deserve and demand an attorney general who will respect the will of the people and who will let states determine their own marijuana policies, unfettered by the federal government and in accordance with America’s longstanding federalist principles. We demand an attorney general who will direct U.S. attorneys not to interfere in, disrupt, or add unnecessary uncertainty to state-licensed marijuana markets. We demand an attorney general who will marshal the resources of the Department of Justice to review and pardon those convicted of federal minor non-violent marijuana possession crimes. Finally, we demand an attorney general who will acknowledge that the criminalization of marijuana and the stigmatization of those who consume it is a failed public policy that financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law and for law enforcement, and disproportionately impacts young adults and communities of color.”

In July, NORML circulated an earlier petition urging Trump and then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to back comprehensive cannabis reform ahead of the election.

But while Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have repeatedly pledged to decriminalize marijuana, the soon-to-be president remains opposed to legalization—even as a supermajority of his party backs the policy change and the House is set to vote on a bill to legalize cannabis next month. The Senate version of that legislation is sponsored by Harris.

Pro-legalization lawmakers have expressed optimism that the Biden-Harris administration will follow through on their cannabis pledges.

But to that end, there has already been a missed opportunity to showcase their commitment to reform. A transition team webpage featuring Biden’s racial equity plan describes multiple criminal justice reform policies the soon-to-be president will prioritize, but it notably omits mention of cannabis decriminalization despite the fact that he has previously linked the proposal to racial justice.

A campaign spokesperson told Marijuana Moment, however, that “nothing has changed,” and decriminalization remains an administrative priority.

Read the full letter NORML is encouraging people to send to Biden on marijuana and the attorney general below: 

President-elect Biden,

Congratulations on being elected the 46th President of the United States. Tens of millions of voters cast votes in favor of your Presidency. Additionally this year, millions of voters also cast votes resoundingly approving multiple statewide ballot measures legalizing and regulating the possession, use, and commercial sale of marijuana for adults. These voters represent a broad and diverse swath of the American electorate, with voters in deep “red” states (Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota) joining with voters in New Jersey, a “blue” state, to enact legalization. Voters in Mississippi and South Dakota also approved ballot measures approving medical marijuana access.

These election results once again affirm that marijuana legalization is a uniquely popular issue that is favored by the majority of voters of all political persuasions — with majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans consistently endorsing legalization in national polls. The results also continue a multi-decade long trend of marijuana’s success at the ballot box. Since 1996, voters have decided affirmatively on 35 separate ballot measures legalizing cannabis (22 legalizing medical marijuana and 13 legalizing adult use). Once these latest laws are enacted, one out of every three Americans will live in a jurisdiction where the adult use of marijuana is legal under state law.

Given this overwhelming public support, and given your campaign pledge to reform marijuana policies and to respect the legitimacy of state-specific marijuana laws, we are calling on you to appoint an Attorney General who will uphold these policies.

Americans deserve and demand an Attorney General who will respect the will of the people and who will let states determine their own marijuana policies, unfettered by the federal government and in accordance with America’s longstanding federalist principles. We demand an Attorney General who will direct US Attorneys not to interfere in, disrupt, or add unnecessary uncertainty to state-licensed marijuana markets. We demand an Attorney General who will marshal the resources of the Department of Justice to review and pardon those convicted of federal minor non-violent marijuana possession crimes. Finally, we demand an Attorney General who will acknowledge that the criminalization of marijuana and the stigmatization of those who consume it is a failed public policy that financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law and for law enforcement, and disproportionately impacts young adults and communities of color.

We urge you to keep the campaign promises made by you, as well as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and appoint an Attorney General who will facilitate necessary changes in marijuana policies and who will respect the decisions of those states that have already moved in this direction.

Sincerely,
(The Undersigned)

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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