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Senators Harris, Nadler Introduce Comprehensive Marijuana Reform Legislation

MJLegal

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, on Tuesday introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, one of the most comprehensive marijuana reform bills ever introduced in the U.S. Congress.

“Times have changed — marijuana should not be a crime,” said Sen. Harris. “We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives. As marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone — especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry. I am thrilled to work with Chairman Nadler on this timely and important step toward racial and economic justice.”

“Despite the legalization of marijuana in states across the country, those with criminal convictions for marijuana still face second class citizenship. Their vote, access to education, employment, and housing are all negatively impacted,” said Chairman Nadler. “Racially motivated enforcement of marijuana laws has disproportionally impacted communities of color. It’s past time to right this wrong nationwide and work to view marijuana use as an issue of personal choice and public health, not criminal behavior. I’m proud to sponsor the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans, and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs.”

“I am encouraged by Senator Harris’ Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act,” said Wanda James, CEO of Simply Pure Dispensary, Denver, CO, and the first African American woman to own a marijuana dispensary in Colorado. “Her focus and dedication to ending the generational damage done by mass incarceration due to federal cannabis prohibition is what is needed from our leadership. I am also excited about her emphasis in providing a path to ownership and wealth creation in communities that have been the most affected by this failed and racist drug war. It is time to change this history.”

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act aims to correct the historical injustices of failed drug policies that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities by requiring resentencing and expungement of prior convictions. This will create new opportunities for individuals as they work to advance their careers, education, and overall quality of life. Immigrants will also benefit from the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, as they will no longer be subject to deportation or citizenship denial based on even a minor marijuana offense. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act also ensures that all benefits in the law are available to juvenile offenders.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act:

  • Decriminalizes marijuana at the federal level by removing the substance from the Controlled Substances Act. This applies retroactively to prior and pending convictions, and enables states to set their own policy.
  • Requires federal courts to expunge prior convictions, allows prior offenders to request expungement, and requires courts, on motion, to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision.
  • Authorizes the assessment of a 5% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products to create an Opportunity Trust Fund, which includes three grant programs:
    • The Community Reinvestment Grant Program: Provides services to the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, including job training, re-entry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth recreation, mentoring, and substance use treatment.
    • The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program: Provides funds for loans to assist small businesses in the marijuana industry that are owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
    • The Equitable Licensing Grant Program: Provides funds for programs that minimize barriers to marijuana licensing and employment for the individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.
  • Opens up Small Business Administration funding for legitimate cannabis-related businesses and service providers.
  • Provides non-discrimination protections for marijuana use or possession, and for prior convictions for a marijuana offense:
    • Prohibits the denial of any federal public benefit (including housing) based on the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense.
    • Provides that the use or possession of marijuana, or prior conviction for a marijuana offense, will have no adverse impact under the immigration laws.
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect data on the demographics of the industry to ensure people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry.

Along with Harris and Nadler, co-sponsors of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act include U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Ron Wyden (D-OR); and U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Hakeem S. Jeffries (D-NY), Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), David Cicilline (D-RI), Steve Cohen (D-TN), J. Luis Correa (D-CA), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Theodore E. Deutch (D-FL), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MA), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Debra A. Haaland (D-NM), Ro Khanna (D-CA), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights, criminal justice, drug policy, and immigration groups, including: the Drug Policy Alliance, Center for American Progress, 4thMVMT, ACLU, California Minority Alliance, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Human Rights Watch, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Sentencing Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, UndocuBlack Network, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

“The disproportionate rates of marijuana arrests and incarceration faced by low-income communities and communities of color only scratch the surface of the devastation that prohibition has caused,” said Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator for Drug Policy Alliance. “Marijuana convictions have disrupted people’s lives — from one’s ability to secure or maintain employment, housing, funds for education, a valid driver’s license to the ability to keep one’s kids or remain in this country for noncitizens. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act ends prohibition in a way that centers communities most impacted by criminalization with reform that is as comprehensive as the decades of harm inflicted.”

“America’s black and brown communities have paid the heaviest price for this country’s drug war. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act marks an unprecedented step toward repairing this harm and represents the responsible way to move forward on marijuana policy,” said Ed Chung, Vice President of Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress. “We look forward to working with Congress to swiftly pass this bill.”

“At a point in time when simultaneously one person could have their life ruined in New York for the exact same action that makes someone in California a millionaire, now more than ever we must end the federal prohibition of marijuana,” said Justin StrekalPolitical Director for NORML. “The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act embodies the need to legalize cannabis and restore the rights of those who have suffered under the cruel and failed policy of criminalization.”

“Marijuana legalization is imperative if we are to move closer to true criminal justice reform, racial equality, and economic justice,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, Deputy Director of the Washington Legislative Office at the ACLU. “Too many communities of color have been disproportionately targeted and over-policed as a result of the war on drugs. We support this comprehensive bicameral legislation that aims to not only chart a more equitable path forward, but also repair some of the harm caused by the punitive marijuana laws of the past.

“We thank Senator Harris and Chairman Nadler for introducing the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act,” said Olivia Golden, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). “To successfully mitigate the damage of a biased criminal justice system, we need legislation that directly addresses the racial and economic disparities caused by marijuana criminalization. As an anti-poverty organization, we applaud the bill’s promotion of equal access to economic opportunities in the marijuana industry, support for community reinvestment strategies, and provisions ensuring that people with marijuana convictions no longer face the collateral consequences of a criminal record. By doing all this, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act would be an important first step to repairing the harm to communities of color and low-income communities from decades of discriminatory drug law enforcement and mass incarceration policies.”

For bill text, click here. 

 

Booker, Lee, Khanna Introduce Landmark Marijuana Justice Bill

Social justice bill would end the federal prohibition on marijuana, expunge records, and reinvest in communities most impacted by War on Drugs

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), today reintroduced their landmark bill to end the federal prohibition on marijuana.

In the Senate, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

“The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs, it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals,” said Booker. “The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of this unfair, unjust, and failed policy by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances and making it legal at the federal level.”

“But it’s not enough to simply decriminalize marijuana. We must also repair the damage caused by reinvesting in those communities that have been most harmed by the War on Drugs. And we must expunge the records of those who have served their time. The end we seek is not just legalization, it’s justice.”

“The War on Drugs has destroyed lives, and no one continues to be hurt more than people of color and low-income communities,” said Wyden. “There is a desperate need not only to correct course by ending the failed federal prohibition of marijuana, but to right these wrongs and ensure equal justice for those who have been disproportionately impacted.”

“Millions of Americans’ lives have been devastated because of our broken marijuana policies, especially in communities of color and low-income communities,” said Gillibrand. “Currently, just one minor possession conviction can take away a lifetime of opportunities for jobs, education, and housing, tear families apart, and make people more vulnerable to serving time in jail down the road. It is shameful that my son would likely be treated very differently from one of his Black or Latino peers if he was caught with marijuana, and legalizing marijuana is an issue of morality and social justice. I’m proud to work with Senator Booker on this legislation to help fix decades of injustice caused by our nation’s failed drug policies.”

“As I said during my 2016 campaign, hundreds of thousands of people are arrested for possession of marijuana every single year,” said Sanders. “Many of those people, disproportionately people of color, have seen their lives negatively impacted because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That has got to change. We must end the absurd situation of marijuana being listed as a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin. It is time to decriminalize marijuana, expunge past marijuana convictions and end the failed war on drugs.”

“Marijuana laws in this country have not been applied equally, and as a result we have criminalized marijuana use in a way that has led to the disproportionate incarceration of young men of color. It’s time to change that,” said Harris. “Legalizing marijuana is the smart thing to do and the right thing to do in order to advance justice and equality for every American.”

“Marijuana should be legalized, and we should wipe clean the records of those unjustly jailed for minor marijuana crimes. By outlawing marijuana, the federal government puts communities of color, small businesses, public health and safety at risk.” said Warren.

“This long-overdue change will help bring our marijuana laws into the 21st century. It’s past time we bring fairness and relief to communities that our criminal justice system has too often left behind.” said Bennet.

“Communities of color and low-income communities have been devastated by the War on Drugs,” said Lee. “As Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, I’m proud to sponsor legislation that would legalize marijuana at the federal level, address the disproportionate impact of prohibition on people of color by expunging criminal convictions, and promote equitable participation in the legal marijuana industry by investing in the communities hardest hit by the failed War on Drugs.”

“Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by misguided marijuana policy for far too long,” said Khanna. “Rep. Lee, Sen. Booker, and I are proud to introduce this important legislation and deliver justice for so many Americans.”

The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of failed drug policy that has disproportionately impacted low-income communities and communities of color. Beyond removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances – making it legal at the federal level – the bill would also automatically expunge the convictions of those who have served federal time for marijuana use and possession offenses, and it would reinvest in the communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs through a community fund. This community reinvestment fund could be used for projects such as job training programs, re-entry services, and community centers.

The bill would also incentivize states through the use of federal funds to change their marijuana laws if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income individuals and/or people of color.

By going further than simply rescheduling marijuana with expungement and community reinvestment, Booker, Lee, and Khanna’s bill is the most far-reaching marijuana legislation ever to be introduced in Congress.

The bill is retroactive and would apply to those already serving time behind bars for marijuana-related offenses, providing for a judge’s review of marijuana sentences.

Full text of the bill is here.

Background on Booker’s leadership on issues of marijuana and criminal justice:

Booker has seen the effects of our broken marijuana laws first-hand, dating back to his time as a tenant lawyer, City Council member, and Mayor of Newark, where he created the city’s first office of prisoner re-entry to help formerly incarcerated individuals re-integrate into their communities.

In the Senate, Booker was an outspoken critic of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ effort to revive the failed War on Drugs. Most recently, he pressed Trump’s newest pick for Attorney General, William Barr, on his stance on marijuana legalization and the Cole memo, winning a commitment from Barr to leave alone states that have already legalized marijuana.

In addition to the Marijuana Justice Act, Booker is the co-author of the bipartisan CARERS Act, which would allow patients to access medical marijuana in states where it’s legal without fear of federal prosecution, and the bipartisan REDEEM Act, which would allow nonviolent drug offenders to petition a court to seal and expunge their drug offenses, while automatically sealing, and in some cases expunging, the nonviolent records of juveniles. These reforms would reduce a major barrier that formerly incarcerated individuals face when attempting to rejoin society. He is also a cosponsor of the Fair Chance Act, which prohibits the federal government and federal contractors from asking about the criminal history of a job applicant prior to a conditional offer of employment. Earlier this month, the Fair Chance Act passed out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Philadelphia: District Attorney To Cease Prosecuting Marijuana Possession Offenders

PENNSYLVANIA: Newly elected District Attorney Larry Krasner has announced that his office will no longer prosecute marijuana possession offense violations.

Although city policy has already decriminalized most minor marijuana possession offenses, police have continued to make several hundred possession arrests annually. Going forward, the DA’s office will drop these charges. Krasner said that the change in policy is “the right thing to do.”

His actions come days after Seattle city officials announced their intentions to vacate the criminal convictions of minor marijuana possession offenders. In recent days, city officials in both San Francisco and in Alameda County, California have also announced plans to automatically reduce or expunge thousands of past marijuana convictions.


For more information, contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at (202) 483-5500.

Vermont: Governor Rejects Marijuana Depenalization Measure

VERMONT:  Republican Gov. Phil Scott has rejected legislation, Senate Bill 22, that sought to eliminate criminal and civil penalties for the adult use and possession of marijuana. The Governor said that he did not support the legislation as written, but remains open to working with lawmakers over the summer on ways to amend the state’s cannabis policies.

Representatives from the Vermont Association of Police Chiefs, the Vermont Medical Society, and the Vermont American Academy of Pediatrics were among those groups opposing S. 22.

“It is disappointing that Gov. Scott would not only defy the will of state legislators, but also the will of the majority of Vermont voters who support ending criminal penalties for those adults who consume cannabis responsibly,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “Minor marijuana possession offenders should not be saddled with a criminal record and the lifelong penalties and stigma associated with it. Rather than looking to the future, Gov. Scott seems intent on repeating the failures of the past.”

Senate Bill 22 would have amended state law so that the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis and/or the cultivation of up to two mature plants (and up to four immature plants) would have no longer been subject to penalty, beginning July 1, 2018. It also established a nine member commission to make recommendations to the legislature regarding how best to regulate the adult use marijuana market.

State lawmakers approved the measure earlier this month. It was the first time that a legislative body ever approved legislation eliminating criminal and civil penalties for adults who possess or grow marijuana for non-medical purposes.

House lawmakers in 2016 rejected similar legislation. That measure had been supported by former Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Washington: Lawmakers To Consider Measure To Vacate Past Marijuana Convictions

WASHINGTON:  House lawmakers are considering legislation, House Bill 1041 providing for the vacation of past misdemeanor marijuana offenses.

The measure states: “Every person convicted of a misdemeanor marijuana offense under RCW 69.50.4014, who was twenty-one years of age or older at the time of the offense, may apply to the sentencing court for a vacation of the applicant’s record of conviction for the offense. The court shall vacate the record of conviction by: (a)(i) Permitting the applicant to withdraw the applicant’s plea of guilty and to enter a plea of not guilty; or (ii) if the applicant has been convicted after a plea of not guilty, the court setting aside the verdict of guilty; and (b) the court dismissing the information, indictment, complaint, or citation against the applicant and vacating the judgment and sentence.”

Past marijuana offenders should not be saddled with a criminal record for engaging in behavior that is now legal under state law. Please urge your House representative to support HB 1041.

Committee On Drugs And The Law Present The Future of Marijuana Law in New York City Wed 1/28/15

NEW YORK: On Wednesday, January 28, 2015, 6:30pm – 8:30pm, the Committee on Drugs and the Law and the New York City Affairs Committee will host an open discussion of the past, present and possible futures of cannabis law in New York City.

Featured panelists include Stephen Levin, New York City Council, District 33; Jumaane D. Williams, New York City Council, District 45; and Nitin Savur, Deputy Chief of Trial Division in Charge of Criminal Courts, Office of the New York County District AttorneyModerator: Patricia Salkin, Dean and Professor of Law, Touro Law Center

Public attitudes and laws governing the use of cannabis have been changing fast and creating challenges and opportunities for policymakers at the state and local level.

The changes in New York State during 2014 were especially great. A new statute legalized certain limited uses of cannabis for medical purposes and the Department of Health has released draft regulations for public comment. After attempting in 2012 to convince the State legislature to expand the scope of New York’s cannabis decriminalization statute, New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance endorsed the de Blasio administration’s announcement that the New York City Police Department will issues summonses for possession of personal-use amounts of cannabis open to public view instead of making arrests. Earlier, Kings County District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced that his office will not prosecute first-time offenders for possession of personal-use amounts.

Meanwhile, if proposed legislation that would regulate cannabis like alcohol succeeds, it will require adjustments to state and local law far broader than those necessary to create the newly legalized medical-use-only cannabis market.

The event sponsors include the Committee on Drugs and the Law and the New York City Affairs Committee.

 

 

Patients Who Need Medical Marijuana in Wyoming Have Tough Choice

WYOMING:  Five years ago, a 60-year-old Casper resident, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of prosecution, experienced spontaneous retinal detachment in both eyes. He had 25 corrective surgeries, and as a secondary result, developed glaucoma. Then he lost all vision in his right eye.

A specialist prescribed Diamox, a diuretic that is typically used for short-term treatment, to control his eye pressure and preserve the little sight remaining in his left eye. But the monthly prescription cost is expensive — about $1,000 without insurance and $100 with assistance. It’s also unpleasant. [Read more…]

Indiana Marijuana Laws A Step Back In Time

INDIANA:  A recent Pew Research Center poll found that for the first time a majority of Americans favor legalizing the use of marijuana. Indiana Governor Mike Pence is not among them.With the rest of the United States moving toward relaxing the marijuana laws, Indiana seems to be bravely marching into the past. The Hoosier State’s penalties for marijuana are getting tougher after Gov. Mike Pence requested, and was granted stricter laws for low-level cannabis offenders. They have gone so far as proposing that felony charges for possession be extended down to cover one-third of an ounce of marijuana, down from 30 grams or one ounce of marijuana.

[Read more…]