House set to pass bill legalizing marijuana

The House is poised to pass legislation this week that would legalize marijuana, just the latest example of rapidly changing attitudes on drug laws that marks a near reversal from America’s war on drugs. the Reagan era which also spilled over into the 1990s.

The bill legalizing marijuana enjoys near-uniform support among Democrats and one of the Senate Majority Leader’s key allies Charles SchumerChuck SchumerWhy does Congress want China to win? Romney working on GOP counter-offer to new Dem COVID-19 funding plan Advocacy groups: Title 42 ‘undermines our trust in administration’ MORE (NY), which aims to introduce a similar measure this spring.

And it’s just one of many pieces of legislation that underscore Congress’ shift in attitude — a shift that has happened in part because of how past drug laws have disproportionately impacted communities. minority.

“This Congress represents a sea change,” said Rep. Count BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerHouse passes bill to end normal trade relations with Russia, Belarusian Congress assesses legal ways to punish Russia Lawmakers introduce bill to eliminate subsidies for construction of professional stadiums MORE (D-Ore.), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

“What we’ve seen is that the majority of people now realize that the war on drugs has failed,” Blumenauer told The Hill. “Drugs are more accessible and cheaper and more powerful and dangerous. No one won this war except the people who themselves were involved with the drug traffickers.

The House has voted twice in the past year, most recently on legislation aimed at making the United States more competitive, to allow legally operating cannabis companies to use banking and card services. of credit instead of having to operate only in cash.

On Thursday, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to expand scientific and medical research into marijuana and its compounds, including cannabidiol.

The wave of action in Congress is not limited to the legalization of marijuana.

The House passed a bipartisan bill last fall — by a 361-66 margin — to eliminate the federal disparity in prison sentences for crack and powder cocaine offenses. All votes in opposition came from Republicans, but a majority of the House GOP joined all Democrats in support.

The issue was also raised during Supreme Court confirmation hearings this week by the senator. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyDemocrat of Louisiana US Senate candidate smokes marijuana in MORE campaign ad (R-La.), who asked the candidate Ketanji Brown JacksonKetanji Brown JacksonEliminate TV coverage of Supreme Court confirmation hearings Worried about democracy? Pay attention to states that Booker says Jackson suffered ‘the most outrageous of attacks’ during hearings MORE if she agreed, there shouldn’t be such a disparity in sentencing.

The bill, titled Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act, or EQUAL Act, also has the support of law enforcement organizations such as the Major Cities Chiefs Association and conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks.

Sen. Richard BurerRichard Mauze BurrThe memo: Democrats hope GOP overplayed hand in Jackson hearings Trump seeks to bolster Ted Budd with North Carolina rally GOP in Senate eyes Hunter Biden, Fauci probes after midterms MORE (RN.C.) became the 10th Senate Republican to back the legislation, paving the way for a likely move to the upper house. Schumer and Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinWorried about democracy? Watch out for states Biden to propose minimum tax on billionaires in budget Sunday shows preview: US, allies ramp up pressure on Russia; Jackson undergoes MORE confirmation hearings (DW.Va.), a frequent centrist vote, also signed the bill in recent days.

“I think they understand that we need to take a more innovative path. We need to understand addiction. We cannot simply incarcerate to get out of these problems. And we certainly cannot continue to turn a blind eye to gross injustice, like this crack powder disparity,” said Holly Harris, president of the Justice Action Network, which advocates for criminal justice reform.

The lower price of crack cocaine – which is usually smoked – meant that it was historically more readily available to people in marginalized, low-income communities, compared to powder cocaine snorted through the nose.

The US Sentencing Commission found in 2020 that 77% of crack dealers were black, compared to 6% white.

The disparity in sentencing stems from a 1986 law signed by then-President Reagan as part of the war on drugs, which established a minimum sentence of five years for possession of five grams or more of crack cocaine. But an individual would need to possess at least 500 grams of powdered cocaine to face the same penalty.

Lawmakers reduced the sentencing disparity for current and future cases through the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, but did not eliminate it entirely.

Schumer’s office did not immediately respond to questions about when the bill might come up for a vote in the Senate.

The broader support in Congress for reversing policies intended to clamp down on drug use reflects public opinion.

Polls show that the American public overwhelmingly supports the legalization of marijuana. A Pew Research Center poll last year found that 91% of American adults think marijuana should be legal at least to some extent, with most saying it should be legal for medical and recreational use.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 37 states, four territories and the District of Columbia allow cannabis products for medical use. Cannabis is also permitted for non-medical use in 18 states, two territories and the nation’s capital.

Schumer also sought input from his colleagues before introducing a marijuana legalization bill, which he said could come this spring.

Cannabis industry advocates, meanwhile, have urged lawmakers to pass the SAFE Banking Act to allow marijuana companies to use banking services because it’s more likely to garner bipartisan support.

Legislation slated for a vote in the House, titled Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, would eliminate criminal penalties associated with marijuana.

It would also establish a process to clear the convictions of nonviolent marijuana offenders and fund programs to help communities negatively affected by the war on drugs by imposing a federal tax on marijuana sales.

In a notice to lawmakers announcing the vote, the House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerClyburn is running for a term in the 16th House Bipartisan support grows to deliver airpower to Ukraine Pictures of the Week: Ukraine, Holi and Carole King MORE (D-Md.) hailed it as “essential legislation that will restore justice to communities that have been disproportionately impacted by harsh penalties for possession of even small amounts of marijuana.”

Only five Republicans backed the legislation when it came to the House for a vote in December 2020, while six Democrats voted against it. One of those Republicans, the late Rep. Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungAlaska Calls Special Election to Replace Late Rep. Don Young The Hill’s Morning Report – Jackson Rebuffs Attacks; Biden in Europe The Hill’s Morning Report – Jackson promises to ‘respect precedent’ if confirmed MORE (Alaska), who served as co-chair of the Cannabis Caucus, died last week.

“The margin could be tighter,” Blumenauer said of next week’s vote. “But I’m optimistic and I’m really pleased that the House Judiciary Committee has moved forward in keeping this front and center.”

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