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Kamala Harris wants to decriminalize weed. That seems a weird thing for the fuzz to do, but the senator and presidential candidate (yes, still) has co-sponsored with Rep. Jerry Nadler The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. The bill would legalize marijuana federally, remove it from the Controlled Substance Act, and expunge non-violent convictions. States would set their own reefer regulations. The bill also devotes funding to help victims of the so-called war on drugs, which disproportionately affected minority communities.

Nadler announced Monday that the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, would mark up the marijuana reform bill this week. Harris is leading the Senate companion to the bill, which would have to survive the GOP-controlled Senate. Some politicians and advocates believe only a more "modest" bill could reach Donald Trump's desk for Ivanka's signature. That's the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act, and you know it's shady because it forms an acronym. The STATES Act wouldn't deschedule marijuana from the CSA, and although it would protect cannabis-related companies, it doesn't really help people left out in the cold from years of unjust drug laws. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Gardner co-sponsored the bill in 2018. That was before Warren ran for president, so it's unlikely Trump would even look at the bill now. Our best bet is flipping the Senate, winning the White House, and going all the way.


The marijuana reform bill addresses criminal justice, income inequality, and progressive economic opportunity. Harris detailed specifics of the plan in an October op-ed for CNN.

HARRIS: My proposal would deliver economic justice to affected communities. The marijuana business is one of the fastest growing money-making industries in today's economy, and individuals and communities disproportionately criminalized by the enforcement of marijuana laws should be first in line to benefit from today's legal marijuana industry. Our bill would authorize a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create new grant programs specifically designed to support businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals entering the legal marijuana industry. It would also provide funding for programs to help minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment.

This is key. People who were busted for pot shouldn't have to stand by and watch bearded Portland hipsters get rich now that it's legal. Gentrified neighborhoods have little pot shops around the corner, but cops used to patrol minority neighborhoods looking for anyone selling dime bags. NPR's "Code Switch" had a segment about the growing racial discrepancies in the legalized pot industry. The entrepreneurs at the 2017 Marijuana Business Conference and Expo were mostly white. You obviously need some firsthand experience with a product if you're going to successfully market it, and not shockingly, white people were most likely to gain that experience without also gaining a disqualifying criminal conviction.

The Harris/Nadler bill is great and reasonably well-received in Congress. However, not all Democrats support marijuana legalization. The one Democrat who doesn't is also, at the moment, the one most likely to be the nominee. Joe Biden stated at a town hall Saturday that he opposes federal legalization of marijuana. He thinks states should have the right to legalize it, which is a weird, non-productive middle ground. Economically, it's not ideal because cannabis shops have to function as "cash-only" businesses like they're common drug dealers (which I guess they technically are). Banks are usually skittish about dealing with companies who are violating federal law. Republican presidential administrations don't usually respect states rights regarding laws they don't like. They wouldn't care if they hobbled a growing industry because they're screwing people in blue states who don't vote for them. Worse, on a human level, a lot of black and brown folks live in red states that are less likely to decriminalize marijuana. White teens in Oregon are dazed and confused while minority teens in Alabama are locked up.

Biden supports the use of medical marijuana, which is a solid progressive position from 2008. He seems legitimately concerned that marijuana is a "gateway drug." Although it's tragic that Prince's cousin tried reefer for the very first time in September and was doing horse by June, the National Academy of Sciences determined in 1999 that there's "no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other drugs." So jazz cigarettes won't cast you in a remake of Requiem for a Dream.

Reefer Madness 1936 www.youtube.com

I sympathize with Uncle Joe. His son has struggled with substance abuse, but criminalizing addiction isn't an effective treatment. Besides, prison is the last place anyone should go to stay clean. I hope every Democrat eventually gets on board with the Harris/Nadler bill. It's the right way forward.

[Capitol News Forum]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.

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