On July 10, the House of Representatives held a hearing on marijuana prohibition in the United States, examining the issue particularly from a racial justice perspective, that was widely described as “historic.”
“Marijuana decriminalization may be one of the very few issues upon which bipartisan agreement can still be reached in this session,” said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-California). “It ought to be crystal clear to everyone that our laws have not accomplished their goals.”
“There is a growing consensus in this country that current marijuana laws are not appropriate and we must consider reform,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-California). “Today’s hearing is a first step in that process.”
A day earlier, advocates made a move that may prove equally significant in the long run. They announced the formation of a coalition of 10 national organizations working on civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy and poverty, aimed at ensuring that the fight for social and racial justice-focused drug laws remains high on congressmembers’ agenda.
The Marijuana Justice Coalition—a collaboration between the ACLU, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NORML, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Center for American Progress, among others—outlined a set of principles for Congress to consider as legislation is developed.
The principles are as follows:
Descheduling marijuana, as maintaining marijuana on the Controlled Substances Act serves to preserve federal criminalization and enforcement.
Criminal justice reform provisions (e.g. expungement, resentencing).
Provisions eliminating barriers to access to public benefits (e.g. nutrition assistance, public housing, etc.) and other collateral consequences related to an individual’s marijuana use or previous arrest or conviction.
Provisions eliminating unnecessarily discriminatory elements for marijuana use, arrests and convictions, including drug testing for public benefits or marijuana use as a reason for separating children from their biological families in the child welfare system.
Provisions that ensure that marijuana use or participation in the marijuana industry does not impact the immigration status of noncitizens nor their ability to naturalize.
Marijuana tax revenue be directed to local units of government and community-based organizations to reinvest in individuals and communities most impacted by the war on drugs, particularly through programming that helps eliminate the collateral harms of marijuana prohibition, especially for individuals with systemic and structural barriers to employment and/or living in high-poverty communities.
Marijuana tax revenue be directed to support entrepreneurs from communities directly impacted by the war on drugs with a process to provide them with the requisite capital to develop cannabis businesses, and encourage emerging licensing programs to be inclusive and reflective of their communities
“Black and brown people have been traumatized by our racist marijuana laws,” said Queen Adesuyi, a policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. “As the federal government embraces reform, our groups will make sure that any proposal will repair the damage done to those communities.”
Photo of Marilyn Mosby, state’s attorney for Baltimore City, testifying before Congress on July 10, via a Youtube video from the US House Committee on the Judiciary