Pubdate: Fri, 26 Jan 2018
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2018 Hearst Communications Inc.


This month, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, introduced legislation to
change the spelling of "marihuana" in the 1970 Controlled Substances
Act to "marijuana" - and then to drop the word altogether from the
federal list of "controlled substances" - that is, illegal drugs.
Removing the marijuana prohibition from federal law is just the
warm-up act to the bill's primary goal: to end a counterproductive war
on drugs. It's past time to reform drug laws that have ruined lives
and devastated communities.

This isn't the first time members of Congress have tried to reverse
the law that has filled our prisons in the course of our nation's
nearly 50-year war on drugs and the 77-year federal prohibition on
marijuana. Lee made her first attempt in 2011 with then-Reps. Barney
Frank, D-Mass., and Ron Paul, R-Texas. That bill died in committee, as
did a series of similar bills introduced in each Congress that followed.

The political landscape and the possibility for passage changed this
month, however, when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced
Jan. 4 that the Department of Justice would no longer recognize
states' rights to legalize some uses of marijuana but would instead
double down on enforcement of federal marijuana laws. This decision to
reignite the war on drugs comes as 29 states and the District of
Columbia have legalized marijuana possession and use - either for
medical use only or both medical and recreational use - and when
polling shows 64 percent of Americans support full

The Marijuana Justice Act, introduced by Lee and 24 co-sponsors
including Rep. Ro Khanna, D-San Jose, is the companion to a bill Sen.
Cory Booker, D-N.J., introduced last year in the Senate. It seeks to
repair harms that have disproportionately affected low-income
communities and people of color while doing little to stem harmful
drug use. It would end decades of prohibition and punishment for
marijuana use and possession and offer retroactive expungement of
criminal records for those who have served time in federal prison. For
those still incarcerated, it allows them to petition for a new sentence.

The bill offers a $500 million investment in communities hurt by the
war on drugs to help people rebuild their lives. It also withholds
federal funding for prisons or jails from states where marijuana is
illegal and the arrest and incarceration rate for marijuana offenses
by minorities is higher than the percentage of the minority population.

Lee's hope is that the bill will establish a model for states of how
to reform their own marijuana laws. There are relatively few
individuals incarcerated for marijuana crimes in federal prisons; the
vast majority have served or are serving time in state prisons.

California reduced penalties for marijuana possession in 2011, but the
punishment of a criminal conviction continues long after the
individual has served his or her time. A criminal record should not
impede access to housing, undermine the ability to get a job or block
college financial aid, but it does, to the detriment of everyone.

In response, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, has introduced AB1793,
which would automatically expunge the records of anyone convicted of a
cannabis-related crime - primarily possession, transportation,
cultivation - as spelled out in Proposition 64 to legalize marijuana,
passed by 57 percent of voters. That means no court petition, no
costly filing fees, no hearing. The record is simply erased. "In my
view, this is what government should be doing - removing barriers and
honoring the will of the voters," he explained.

Opponents of marijuana legalization decry Lee's and Booker's efforts,
asking why any society would want to make another intoxicant legal and
risk increasing impaired driving and environmental damage caused by
marijuana grows. Impaired driving and environmental damage are serious
concerns - ones Californians must address as it rolls out new rules of
the road for legal marijuana use.

But those concerns - as well as the regulation on whether and how
marijuana can be sold - all can be addressed at the state level. The
federal government needs to get out of the way.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt