Pressure to reform draconian federal drug laws is increasing as Democratic lawmakers are finally showing signs of pushing forward with progressive pot laws.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that he will soon be introducing a bill to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level. This followed the signing of a bill that officially legalized recreational marijuana for his home state of New York.
During a press conference, Schumer was asked for his stance on cannabis, and he answered, “I support decriminalization at the federal level and will be introducing legislation with a few of my colleagues shortly.” When asked to clarify whether he supported legalization, he made a dismissive “either/or” movement with his hand and said, “At the federal level, you call it ‘decriminalization,’ because that lets the states legalize.”
The decriminalization bill that he’s referring to is being drafted by Schumer, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). The bill will reportedly remove cannabis from the list of scheduled substances and expunge criminal records for minor marijuana offenses—although the legislators have yet to publish any of it.
Last month Schumer, Wyden and Booker met on a YouTube livestream to talk about cannabis reform. “For decades, young people who were arrested with a small amount of marijuana in their pockets served long prison terms, and then they had a felony record and could never make themselves right,” said Schumer. “And then what we learned is when states decriminalized or legalized, all the horrible stories that people said—crime rates would go up, people’s drug use would go up—never materialized.”
“This is not a War on Drugs,” said Booker, “it’s a war on people. And certain people—veterans are disproportionately arrested for possession of marijuana, low-income people disproportionately arrested, people with mental health challenges disproportionately arrested and of course … Black and Brown communities are targeted.”
Schumer and Booker both said that cannabis criminal records have to be expunged so that people’s lives are no longer ruined by draconian laws. Schumer also once again touted the idea that revenue made from a legal cannabis market should go directly into communities of color to offset the unbalanced negative effects that they experienced as a result of the Drug War.
“It is long past time to address the harms of the failed War on Drugs,” said Wyden. He went on to criticize the federal government’s interference with state law. “So many small cannabis businesses have been hurt by this, and in effect they said, ‘You know, our people voted to legalize, and then all these out-of-date policies came along … and got in the way of our small businesses.’”
“Time to move,” said Schumer. “We’re ready. The three of us are going to be introducing legislation shortly, and it’s exciting, and it’s imperative, and we will get it done.”
Well, we’re waiting for the governor to get around to signing HB 2—Cannabis Regulation Act. And the worry has worn our nails down to the quick. When she finally gets around to it, recreational cannabis will finally be legal in New Mexico for adults over 21. The bill passed in the Senate during the special legislative session.
But legislators didn’t make it easy. The bill stumbled a number of times as it moved through the House and Senate, and would have been left to die on the floor if it wasn’t for the governor calling a special session. The largest portion of praise should be dished out to the five freshman senators who made the passage possible. Analysts believe that without the support of the new senators, the bill likely would have gone the way of its predecessors in previous years.
Adults over 21 will be able possess up to two ounces of pot and grow up to six plants on their private property (with a limit of 12 plants per household). Retail sales won’t begin until April 1, 2022, though. Minor cannabis offenders will be given the opportunity to have their cases expunged, and much of the tax revenue is expected to fund social programs.
Language in the law will exempt medical cannabis patients from having to pay taxes to purchase their medication from all dispensaries. The law will also give medical cannabis companies the option to remain medical-only but will require all recreational dispensaries to offer medical cannabis.
Not only did New York legalize recreational cannabis last week, it really pushed the envelope by allowing people to smoke marijuana anywhere a person can smoke cigarettes. New York has officially raised the stakes, and now we’re all going to see what happens when we go back to treating cannabis like the benign substance it is.
According to NBC4 in New York, the NYPD released a four-page memo instructing police officers that smoking cannabis in public is no longer “a basis for an approach, stop, summons, arrest or search.” The rules that apply to public tobacco smoking now apply to marijuana as well.
The memo describes a person smoking weed on a public sidewalk or on a front stoop as being in accordance with the new laws. Smoking in parks and on beaches is banned, however—just as it is with tobacco products.
Police are also barred from interfering with an underage user who is smoking in public, although the memo states that they may be given the ability to issue a “civil summons” in the future.
A new poll found that 75 percent of Americans want to end federal prohibition of marijuana.
The poll, conducted by The Hill and HarrisX, surveyed 1,882 registered voters. It found that 38 percent of registered voters supported federal legalization of cannabis while 37 believed it should be left up to individual states. Only 25 percent of respondents were in favor of broad federal cannabis restrictions.
The opinions seemed to follow partisan lines. A plurality of Republicans supported letting states decide their own cannabis laws. A plurality of Democrats and independents supported full legalization at the federal level.
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