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Will Congress Pass the Joint?

Sen. Kamala Harris vows to decriminalize cannabis in Biden-Harris Administration

While marijuana legalization support has increased in state capitols throughout the nation, Congress continues to remain stalled. But this election can very easily change the number of states with legal medicinal and recreational legislation.

With less than two weeks away from the election, five states are voting on cannabis legalization on Nov. 3. States — Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota are voting on legalizing cannabis for all adults over the age of 21. Furthermore, South Dakota has medical-cannabis on the ballot, while Mississippi is voting on a medical-marijuana program.

Tennessee Senator Releases Cannabis New Medicinal Campaign Ad
Despite the number of voters in favor of a marijuana reform, there is no current legislation passed in the Tennessee legislature. Last Friday, Oct. 23, Sen. Steve Dickerson, a Republican for Tennessee released a 30-second commercial spot lighting marijuana criminalization and benefits of medicinal cannabis. Dickerson also said the policy change would be legislative priority if he’s reelected.

 

“As your state senator, I’ve led the fight to legalize medical marijuana so our veterans and sickest Tennesseans can deal with chronic pain,” he said. “But this same life-saving plant has led to mass incarceration, with nonviolent marijuana possession resulting in lengthy prison sentences.”

Harris Vows Decriminalization

On Oct. 7, during the Vice Presidential Debate between incumbent Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, she vowed, if elected, to decriminalize cannabis. Marijuana and drug enforcement was the heated disagreement during the discussion on race and the criminal justice system.

“We will decriminalize the use of marijuana and automatically expunge all marijuana use convictions and incarceration for drug use alone,” she said during the debate.

In addition, Harris pledged the Biden-Harris administration would take measures to track police who abuse their positions, ban private prisons and cash bail.

“This is no time—from, I think, our collective perspective— for half-stepping,” she added. “This is no time for incrementalism. We need to deal with the system, and there needs to be significant change in the design of the system so that we can support working people, so that we can fight for the dignity of people, so that we can make sure that all people have equal access to opportunity and to justice.”

Kamala Harris Decriminalization Quote

Although Biden didn’t weigh in on the cannabis issues, he attacked Harris’ drug enforcement record as a prosecutor in San Francisco. Harris also shared the same plans during virtual Labor-centric town hall.

“When you were when you were [district attorney] in San Francisco, when you left office, African Americans were 19 times more likely to be prosecuted for minor drug offenses than whites and Hispanics,” he said. “When you were attorney general of California, you increased the disproportionate incarceration of blacks in California. You did nothing on criminal justice reform in California.”

On the right political spectrum, President Donald Trump has voiced his support to letting states enact their own marijuana policies without federal interference.

Biden has opposed legalizing cannabis, but according to a number of media reports has backed letting states set their own laws, legalizing medicinal cannabis, decriminalizing and expunging past records. He has also supported, “modestly rescheduling the drug under federal law,” according to media reports. Currently, marijuana is still on the list of drugs restricted by the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

In addition, Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said that legalization would be at the front end of the 2021 congressional agenda if former vice president, now the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden and Harris are elected. But earlier this summer, he also noted that regardless of Biden’s stance on cannabis, Congress will advance a cannabis reform.

No Time For Half-Stepping

Cannabis industry advocates like CEO of Camp Nova, a technology platform focused on cannabis brands out of Oakland, Calif., Kamala’s hometown, Marvin Wilcher, is keeping watch on the decriminalization of cannabis with high hopes that it will further improve the cannabis industry.

“Black and brown people are affected substantially,” Wilcher said. “It’s ruining people’s lives by the tens of thousands. Decriminalization brings us back to square one.”

In other words, according to Wilcher, the decriminalization will help reset cannabis related issues and set precedence for a new opportunity in policing and law enforcement, while freeing up billions of dollars wasted in incarcerations and jail building.

Presently, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, there are 11 states, including Washington, D.C. that have legalized recreational cannabis. Eighteen states that have decriminalized, or removed criminal penalties for possession of small amounts. And a grand total of 33 states, with D.C. Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, that have legalized medicinal cannabis.

If all goes well, on Election Night, approximately, 76 percent of the U.S. will have some sort of legal cannabis legislation — medicinally, recreationally or both; increasing the number of “legal” states from 33 to 38.

A percentage that Wilcher said, “Can’t be ignored.” With 33 states legal and five more on the block, Wilcher said it’s apparent that state legislatures are the main arena for legalization debates.

“That’s over 75 percent of the U.S. adopting legal legislation,” he added. “This will help make cannabis a legitimate and viable industry.”

 

Harris decrim- Infographic

Decriminalization vs. Legalization

But decriminalization is just the tip of the iceberg. According to Wilcher, legalization across all 50 states is key.

“Decriminalization is not the same as legalization,” Wilcher added. “Legalization is a matter of racial justice and needs to undo over 60 years of racist criminal legal policies, while ensuring no further harm is done after legalization.”

He also said he thinks that the federal government needs to take on a leadership role in full legalization in part because though cannabis may be decriminalized, it may still be against the law to possess marijuana in state and local jurisdictions.

 

 

“It’s not enough,” Wilcher added. “There are still violations for small amounts of cannabis intended for personal use that comes with local infractions rather than state-level crimes. There is still a possibility of incarceration.”

Arrest Rates Cannabis Possession Infographic

In 2018, four-in-ten U.S. drug arrests were for possession, sale or manufacture of marijuana, according to a Pew Research Center, PRC, report. PRC also reported that across all 50 states, and D.C., a whopping 663,000 marijuana-related arrests were made. That’s a total of 40 percent of the 1.65 million total drug arrests in the U.S. that year, documents show.

The 2019 PRC’s poll on public opinion on legalizing marijuana reflected that two-thirds of Americans are in favor of legalizing cannabis. On a national level that’s 59 percent Americans saying the use of marijuana, recreationally or medicinally, should be legal. PRC’s findings also reflect another 32 percent of Americans say it should be legal for medical use only and only 8% say it should not be legal.

“We should all give a round of applause and standing ovations to all of the companies across the country who are trying to participate in the cannabis industry legally. They’re doing it because they want to make a legitimate and viable industry happen.

Harris, a Democrat from California, has also been the lead Senate sponsor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 or the MORE Act of 2019 — a bill that would decriminalize marijuana. But the bill has stalled.

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