As congressional lawmakers pursue marijuana legalization, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) are calling on Attorney General Merrick Garland to use his authority to end federal cannabis prohibition, making the case that the Justice Department should initiate a de-scheduling process.
In their letter to Garland, the two senators prevail upon him to “allow states to regulate cannabis as they see fit, begin to remedy the harm caused by decades of racial disparities in enforcement of cannabis laws, and facilitate valuable medical research.” The letter continued, “While Congress works to pass comprehensive cannabis reform, you can act now to decriminalize cannabis.”
The senators also voiced concerns over the continuing injustice for people of color who are over-criminalized for marijuana offenses despite comparable usage rates among numerous races. They said that “decriminalizing cannabis is also a critical first step in addressing the racial inequities in cannabis law enforcement.”
By over-criminalizing people of color convicted of marijuana-related offenses, the “Federal cannabis policy has disproportionately affected the ability of people of color in the United States to vote, to pursue education, and to build intergenerational wealth,” wrote Warren and Booker. “You can begin to repair the harm that the criminalization of cannabis has wrought on communities of color by using your statutory and regulatory authority to de-schedule this drug.”
NORML Political Director Justin Strekal praised the senators’ action, saying it “is imperative that we pursue every avenue possible to end the senseless and cruel policy of marijuana criminalization. Now the question is: How and when will Attorney General Merrick Garland respond?”
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra was cc’ed on the senators’ letter. Becerra has a longtime record backing cannabis reform and has worked to protect California’s marijuana program from federal interference throughout his time as the Golden State’s attorney general.
Attorney General Garland’s judicial record would indicate that he prefers to defer to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) when it comes to drug scheduling. But during his Senate confirmation proceedings, then-nominee Garland said in oral and written testimony that it’s a waste of federal resources to go after people acting in compliance with state cannabis laws and recognized racial disparities in marijuana enforcement.
“We urge the DOJ to initiate the process to decriminalize cannabis,” the senators wrote. “Doing so would be an important first step in the broader tasks of remedying the harmful racial impact of our nation’s enforcement of cannabis laws and ensuring that states can effectively regulate the growing cannabis industry, including by assisting small business owners and those most harmed by our historical enforcement of cannabis laws.”
This letter comes one week after the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill to federally legalize cannabis and promote social equity introduced by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
Meanwhile, Booker, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden continue to work on their legalization proposal that was unveiled over the summer but is still being touched up and polished.