Coalition Wants Social Justice Baked Into Cannabis Legalization

Published on July 9, 2019 · Last updated July 28, 2020
With Congress now taking legalization seriously, a group of civil rights and social justice advocates say it's time to talk about legal reform and reparations.

On the eve of a historic Congressional hearing on cannabis legal reform and racial justice, a coalition of reform groups has issued a set of principles to guide legislators as they consider legalization bills in the House and Senate.

The group is calling for cannabis to be descheduled (not rescheduled), and for any legalization package to include criminal justice reform provisions, including avenues for resentencing and expunging past convictions.

The coalition includes the ACLU, the Center for American Progress, the Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, NORML, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, among other groups.

‘Repair the Damage Done’

Coalition leaders want to reform federal cannabis laws “in a way that gives back to the communities most impacted by the war on drugs,” said Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Black and brown people have been traumatized by our racist marijuana laws and, as the federal government embraces reform, our groups will make sure that any proposal will repair the damage done to those communities.”

The principles set out in the coalition’s statement include calls to:

  • Deschedule cannabis, removing it entirely from the Controlled Substances Act.
  • Include justice reform measures like expungement and resentencing.
  • Eliminate public benefits penalties related to an individual’s cannabis use. This affects areas like public housing, nutrition assistance, etc.
  • Eliminate cannabis testing, arrests, and convictions as factors in child welfare cases.
  • Eliminate penalties for cannabis use, or participation in the cannabis industry, in immigration and naturalization cases.
  • Direct cannabis tax revenue to local governments and community-based organizations to reinvest in individuals and communities most impacted by the war on drugs.
  • Direct tax revenue to support entrepreneurs from communities directly impacted by the war on drugs.

Wednesday’s Congressional Hearing

The House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security will hold a hearing on Wednesday, July 10, on Marijuana Laws in America: Racial Justice and the Need for Reform. This will be the first Congressional hearing to consider cannabis within the context of ending prohibition.

The hearing isn’t focused on any one particular bill—there are currently more than a half-dozen legalization proposals floating around Capitol Hill—but is expected to set the stage for future action on legalization out of the House Judiciary Committee. That committee is chaired by Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat who earlier this year promised to seriously consider federal cannabis reform.

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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