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Prosecutor Backs Marijuana Bill Following Trip To Study Drug Decriminalization In Portugal

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A Massachusetts prosecutor says that a trip to study Portugal’s drug decriminalization model motivated her to voice support for a U.S. congressional bill that would allow states to set their own marijuana policies.

Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington was one of 20 prosecutors to tour the nation, which decriminalized drug possession in 2001 and has since seen dramatic reductions in overdose deaths and increased access to substance abuse treatment. They met with policymakers, law enforcement and public health professionals to discuss the impacts of decriminalization.

“The eye-opening journey affirmed my view that drug use should be treated as a public health concern,” Harrington said in a press release on Monday. She added that she felt inspired to support the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, now pending in Congress.

She described the group as being “part of a new breed of American prosecutors that are reforming the criminal justice system,” and that includes prosecutors who are proactively changing cannabis enforcement policies by declining to go after low-level possession cases, for example.

“The effort is part of a larger movement in which states across the U.S. are abandoning the aggressive marijuana enforcement policies from the past in favor of sensible approaches that promote public safety and better reflect public opinion,” Harrington said.

In the absence of Justice Department guidance on federal marijuana enforcement priorities, the district attorney said Congress should pass the STATES Act to prevent interference in state-legal cannabis activities.

The Schedule I status of marijuana under federal law has inhibited research into its therapeutic potential, she argued. And punitive drug laws have fueled mass incarceration, wasting law enforcement resources and disproportionately impacting communities of color.

Money spent prosecuting people for low-level marijuana possession “would be better spent on apprehending violent criminals and removing deadly drugs like fentanyl off the street,” she wrote.

“The STATES Act is a tremendous opportunity for our national leaders to work together and serve the people,” Harrington continued. “We hope they join [bill sponsor Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)] in seizing this landmark opportunity.”

Though the Portugal tour involved an examination of the country’s broader decriminalization policy, Harrington’s statement largely focused on cannabis reform, with no mention of plans to reduce or eliminate criminal penalties for possession of other controlled substances.

That said, decriminalization does seem to be gaining traction elsewhere outside of the U.S. A Canadian lawmaker introduced legislation to decriminalize all illicit drugs last month following a report from a key House of Commons committee recommending the policy change.

Also last month, a top Malaysian official announced that the government would be moving ahead with decriminalization in an effort to combat addiction.

Canadian Lawmaker Introduces Bill To Decriminalize All Drugs

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

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

Politics

Key Congressional Committee Officially Schedules Vote On Marijuana Legalization Bill

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A key House committee has officially announced that a vote on a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill is scheduled for this week.

The House Judiciary Committee said on Monday that the panel will mark up legislation introduced by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), which would federally deschedule cannabis and address social equity, on Wednesday at 10:00 AM ET. The announcement confirms what sources familiar with the planned development told Marijuana Moment last week.

Nadler’s Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act has been lauded by advocates for its emphasis on restorative justice for communities most impacted by the drug war.

It calls for a five percent federal tax on marijuana sales, and that revenue would be used to fund programs such as job training, legal aid for those affected by prohibition and small business loans for individuals who are socially and economically disadvantaged. The bill also seeks to lift barriers to licensing and employment in the industry.

Additionally, the legislation would expunge the records of those with prior cannabis convictions, provide for resentencing, block federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances as a result of marijuana use and protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis.

“A supermajority of Americans, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents, support regulating the use of marijuana by responsible adults,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a press release. “Thanks to the leadership of the House Judiciary chairman, never in history have we been closer to ending the failed policy of marijuana criminalization and providing pathways to opportunity for our brothers and sisters who have suffered under its oppressive reign.”

“The MORE Act is the most comprehensive marijuana policy reform bill ever introduced in Congress and is backed by a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups. Those who oppose this legislation moving forward are defenders of a failed status-quo that ruins the lives of otherwise law-abiding adults on a daily basis, overwhelming enforced against the poor and communities of color.”

Text of an amendment in the nature of a substitute from Nadler that Judiciary members will take up was also released on Monday. It includes a new “findings” section that discusses racial disparities in marijuana enforcement, the growing state-level legalization movement and the challenges that individuals from disadvantaged communities face in participating in the market.

“The communities that have been most harmed by cannabis prohibition are benefiting the least from the legal marijuana marketplace,” one provision reads. “A legacy of racial and ethnic injustices, compounded by the disproportionate collateral consequences of 80 years of cannabis prohibition enforcement, now limits participation in the industry.

Much of the language of the new section is borrowed from a resolution that Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, introduced last year.

“The data speaks for itself—low-income communities and communities of color have disproportionately borne the brunt of the devastation brought on by marijuana prohibition,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “The MORE Act is the most robust bipartisan legislation so far not only to end federal marijuana prohibition, but also to ensure that the communities that have been hardest hit by prohibition are not left behind.”

“It would be a tragic mistake to have the only marijuana reform bill that passes this Congress be one that solely benefits the industry, despite both the unprecedented support for legalization nationally amongst Americans and all the harm that we know federal prohibition has caused to individuals and communities across this country,” she said. “Fortunately, by ensuring the MORE Act moves forward, several leaders in the House are showing that they understand that this is a matter of fundamental justice that the US Congress needs to address.”

Advocates have been eagerly awaiting a committee vote on the MORE Act, especially since the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to protect banks that service the cannabis industry in September. Some groups, including the ACLU, had implored leadership to delay the banking vote until the chamber passed legislation like the MORE Act that addresses social equity.

Committee members on both sides of the aisle will be able to introduce amendments to the legislation, but it’s generally expected to advance out of the panel and onto the floor. That said, its fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is far from certain.

Read the full text of the new amendment to the MORE Act below: 

MORE Act by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Biden Says Marijuana Might Be A Gateway Drug

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Politics

Biden Says Marijuana Might Be A Gateway Drug

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Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) said on Saturday that he’s not sure if marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to the use of other, more dangerous substances.

“The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” the 2020 presidential candidate claimed at a town hall meeting in Las Vegas. “It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Politics

Vote To Federally Legalize Marijuana Planned In Congress

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A key congressional committee plans to hold a historic vote on a bill to end the federal prohibition of marijuana next week, two sources with knowledge of the soon-to-be-announced action said.

The legislation, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and set aside funding to begin repairing the damage of the war on drugs, which has been disproportionately waged against communities of color.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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