A 4/20 Call for Feds to Pursue Equitable Cannabis Legalization

April 20, 2021

On 4/20, the Federal Cannabis Regulations Working Group—consisting of cannabis regulators, public health experts and criminal justice reform advocates convened by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)—released a set of principles for pursuing a federal cannabis legalization policy based in justice and social equity.

Those points include “dignity,” which reiterates that cannabis producers and users deserve respect as members of society; “racial justice,” which calls for expungement and insists that new laws and tax revenues must aim to correct the harms of the drug war on people of color; and “just and equitable ownership” of cannabis businesses as well general “equity,” which warn that legislation must not discriminate against already-marginalized groups.

The group’s other core tenets include creating robust public education and research, restricting sales to minors, building on existing state and medical programs, protecting the environment and allowing people to grow cannabis at home outside a tax system.

The signers also call for the United States to encourage the United Nations to remove cannabis scheduling from any relevant global treaties.

“As we get closer to federal marijuana legalization being a reality in the United States, it’s more urgent than ever before to create a regulatory framework that both comprehensively addresses the harms of prohibition and ensures just and equitable future outcomes,” Queen Adesuyi, the policy manager for DPA’s Office of National Affairs, said in a statement. “We have already seen the way industry is jockeying for the opportunity to regulate themselves, and it is critical that advocates—who are representing the interest of those who have been most impacted by prohibition, and those who are in the best position to prevent future harms—set the agenda for how federal cannabis regulation should work.”

Momentum for many of the group’s aims is building. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised that a federal legalization bill will hit the Senate floor “soon,” reiterating a claim he made late last month and pledging to finally make good on the plan he started in early 2021, not long after President Joe Biden took office.

A recent poll from the Pew Research Center indicated that an overwhelming majority of Americans—91 percent—think cannabis should be legal in some form, a staggering reversal from decades ago. (According to Pew, “in 1978, 47 percent of Boomers favored legalizing marijuana, but support plummeted during the 1980s, reaching a low of 17 percent in 1990.” The number has steadily climbed since.) And more and more states continue to fast-track the legalization of marijuana. A few weeks ago, New York legalized marijuana a few weeks ago with an eye to reversing drug-war harms.

In nearby Pennsylvania, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman used 4/20 as a reason to march with advocates to the State Capitol steps, where they were set to host a press conference urging legislators to decriminalize and legalize marijuana.

“This is a strong bipartisan issue, and it’s past time to end prohibition, right the wrongs of the War on Drugs, and for Pennsylvania to reap the revenue, jobs, freedom, and benefits for our farmers that more than a dozen other states already enjoy,” Fetterman said in a press release.

Meanwhile at the Senate, Schumer celebrated 4/20—“the very unofficial American holiday”—with a speech addressing his efforts with Senators Ron Wyden and Cory Booker to end the federal prohibition of marijuana.

“The war on drugs has too often been a war on people, particularly people of color,” Schumer said, assuring listeners that the policy will “ensure restorative justice, public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations.”



DPA has previously provided a restricted grant to The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, to support a Drug War Journalism Diversity Fellowship.

Photograph by Mark via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0 

Alex Norcia

Alex was formerly Filter’s news editor. He previously worked as a reporter and copy editor at VICE, and has been published in the New York Times Magazine, the Columbia Journalism Review, the Los Angeles Times and the New Republic, among other outlets. He was also previously a freelance editorial consultant for the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World; The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, has received grants from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. He is currently based in Los Angeles.

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