Grassroots marijuana equity advocates say federal action would ‘level the playing field’

After a six-month wait, the Justice Department has finally responded to Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Cory Booker’s letter to the White House calling on President Joe Biden’s administration to effectively decriminalize marijuana and pardon all non-violent cannabis offences. Warren’s office called the 230-word, half-page response “extraordinarily disappointing” and released another. statement with five fellow senators on Wednesday urging the administration to take federal action.

“The administration’s failure to coordinate a speedy review of its cannabis policy is hurting thousands of Americans, slowing research, and robbing Americans of their ability to use marijuana for medical or other purposes” , indicates the letter. “We call on the Biden administration to act quickly to rectify this decade-long injustice that harms individuals, especially black and brown communities.”

Marijuana equity advocates in Massachusetts welcome the senators’ letter and echo their call for the Biden administration to declassify cannabis as a Schedule I drug. They argue that while the Commonwealth legalized the drug initiative by vote in 2016, federal action would significantly benefit those in Massachusetts — and across the country — who are disproportionately affected by cannabis laws.

Sarah Kim, chair of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, said expunging previous convictions would benefit the commission’s social equity program, which helps people with federal offenses participate in the legal cannabis industry in the world. Massachusetts. She said people with cannabis-related offenses on their records are currently having trouble getting loans from banks because of the federal classification of the drug.

It’s a program that creates “sustainable pathways into the cannabis industry for those most affected by the war on drugs, marijuana prohibition, disproportionate arrests and incarceration,” according to the website. the Commission.

Kim added that the federal action would also pave the way for more marijuana research.

“It encourages institutions to do more research on the benefits or even the harms of marijuana,” she said. “We all need to know this information as we create a safer and well-regulated industry.”

Other states that have adult-use cannabis social equity programs include California, New York, New Mexico, Michigan, Illinois, Connecticut, Arizona, and Virginia, as well as Washington, DC

Shaleen Title, chief executive of the cannabis policy think tank Parabola Center, stressed the importance of forgiving those convicted of a non-violent drug offense.

“Of course, our first priority should be to release people locked up for cannabis offenses, both federally and stately,” said Title, who previously served on the Cannabis Control Commission.

The Last Prisoner Project, a coalition that aims to free “the last prisoner of the war on drugs”, estimates that more than 40,000 people are incarcerated in federal prison for cannabis-related offenses. A 2020 ACLU national report found that black people are almost four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession.

Massachusetts’ records erasure process is deeply flawed and far behind other states, according to Title.

“There are other states that have automatic expungement so you don’t have to go through a court petition process,” she said. “There are other states where governors have mass pardoned thousands of marijuana offenses. We haven’t done any of that.”

The headline added that the ability for nonviolent cannabis offenders to expunge records in Massachusetts is hampered by several obstacles, including the fact that many may not know or understand the process.

“When you have a case, it affects your job, your housing, potentially family and custody issues,” she said. “There are so many things that are unfair because they are based on unfair application. We need to erase those records and level the playing field a bit.”

Title, like the group of senators, is calling out Biden for neglecting his “unequivocal” campaign promise to decriminalize marijuana and free anyone incarcerated for a cannabis-related offense.

The headline, however, warned that an overnight federal overhaul could put minority-owned businesses and small businesses at risk. Cannabis deprogramming would enable interstate commerce, which could pave the way for big corporations to enter the playing field.

“It’s very likely to allow Amazon, Big Tobacco and other kinds of corporate domination,” she said. “Yes, federal deprogramming should be done, but it needs to be done carefully so we can protect small businesses and we can protect progress in places in Massachusetts where we have regulations in place for business owners. minority businesses and small business owners so that they can continue and be successful.

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