U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) led Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) banded together to send a letter to President Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland, and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, following up on previous requests that the administration use its authority to deschedule cannabis and pardon non-violent cannabis-related offenders. The letter was issued on July 6.
“We commend the administration’s recent pardons and commutations of 78 people, including nine with non-violent cannabis-related offenses,” said the lawmakers. “However, much more has to be done to address the racist and harmful legacy of cannabis policies on Black and Brown communities.”
According to Warren’s website, in November 2021, Senators Warren and Markey sent a letter to the President asking him to use constitutional authority to pardon all individuals convicted of non-violent cannabis-related offenses, whether formerly or currently incarcerated. They say the administration has not responded to this letter, and it is estimated that over 40,000 individuals are still incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses.
A month earlier, Senators Warren and Booker wrote to Attorney General Garland urging him to begin the process of declassifying cannabis as a Schedule I drug. In April 2022, six months after the first letter, the Department of Justice (DOJ) answered with an inadequate half-page response, noting the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) determination that “cannabis has not been proven in scientific studies to be a safe and effective treatment for any disease or condition”’ and disregarding the DOJ’s clear authority under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to begin the descheduling process and act independently of HHS’s outdated and flawed determination conducted under a previous administration.
In the letter, the Senators write, ” The American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and New England Journal of Medicine have all supported legalizing cannabis for medicinal use. The World Health Organization has also recommended reclassifying cannabis from its most restrictive classification under international drug treaties.”
The Senators argued for more to be done to address the racist and harmful legacy of cannabis policies on Black and Brown communities. The letter stated, “A report released by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2020 found that Black individuals were nearly four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession even with comparable usage rates amongst individuals of all races. In some states Black individuals were almost 10 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession.”
“The administration’s failure to coordinate a timely review of its cannabis policy is harming thousands of Americans, slowing research, and depriving Americans of their ability to use marijuana for medical or other purposes,” concluded the lawmakers. “We ask that the administration act quickly to rectify this decade long injustice harming individuals, especially Black and Brown communities.”
NORML Political Director Morgan Fox said: “Getting bipartisan support for anything seems next to impossible these days, and Senators Rosen and Merkley should be commended for getting nearly a quarter of the upper chamber to publicly rally behind including SAFE Banking in this bill. This narrowly tailored language would help address outdated policy that is limiting opportunities for small businesses and costing lives. Lawmakers from across the political spectrum, as well as a majority of voters nationwide, have been calling for this legislation for years only to meet with inaction in the Senate. Given the pace of state-level legalization in recent years, Senators on this conference committee would do well to remember that even if their states might not be directly impacted now, this could very well benefit their constituents in the near future.”