Decrying “over a century of failed and racist cannabis policies,” Elizabeth Warren and a pair of other Democratic senators are urging President Joe Biden to use his executive authority to “pardon all individuals convicted of nonviolent cannabis offenses, whether formerly or currently incarcerated.”
Warren, the senior senator from Massachusetts, made the request in a letter to Biden on Tuesday. Warren’s fellow senator from the Bay State, Ed Markey, and Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley also signed the letter.
“America’s cannabis policies have punished Black and Brown communities for too long. Beginning at the turn of the 20th century, states enacted anti-cannabis laws to specifically target Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans,” the three senators wrote. “By 1937, the battle against cannabis—buoyed by a high-profile campaign relying on racist tropes—had escalated to a federal ban.
“In the 1970s, President Nixon launched the War on Drugs over the objections of his own advisors and experts, spawning mass incarceration policies with devastating effects on Black and Brown families. Today, despite legalization efforts across the country and roughly equal cannabis usage rates, Black Americans are still nearly four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession as white Americans.”
The Democratic trio also came with receipts, pointing to the mounds of polling data showing record numbers of Americans in support of marijuana legalization.
“These policies are increasingly out of step with the views of the American public. Nearly seven in 10 Americans believe that cannabis should be legalized,” the senators wrote. “Eighteen states, two territories and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for recreational use, all in the past decade.
“Twenty-seven states—ranging from New York to North Dakota—plus D.C. have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis,” they continued. “Thirty-six states, three territories and D.C. have allowed for the medical use of cannabis. And a number of tribal governments have legalized cannabis for various purposes.”
But despite all that evidence of robust public approval for marijuana reform, Biden has thus far balked at the idea of outright legalization. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in July that the president remains opposed to lifting the prohibition on pot.
However, on the campaign trail last year, Biden had said that he supports decriminalizing marijuana, as well as expunging the records and releasing from jail individuals who had been convicted of pot.
Warren and her colleagues noted that campaign pledge in their letter to Biden on Tuesday.
“Our country’s cannabis policies must be completely overhauled, but you have the power to act now: you can and should issue a blanket pardon for all non-violent federal cannabis offenses, fulfilling your promises to the American people and transforming the lives of tens of thousands of Americans,” they wrote.
“As a candidate for President, you argued that, ‘We should decriminalize marijuana,’ and, ‘Everyone [with a marijuana record] should be let out of jail, their records expunged, be completely zeroed out.’ The first and simplest step in the process is a blanket pardon. The Constitution grants you the authority to pardon broad classes of Americans to correct widespread injustice, as previous presidents have done.
“Most importantly, such a pardon—combined with your leadership on an accessible expungement process to formally clear the criminal records of those affected—would mark the beginning of a reversal of decades of ineffective and discriminatory cannabis policies, allowing Americans to return to their communities, find housing and jobs and rebuild their lives without the burdens of an unjustly imposed criminal record.”
The senators called on President Biden to once and for all make good on the campaign promise he made on the campaign trail. “We urge you to act swiftly on behalf of the countless Americans punished by the country’s senseless cannabis laws,” they added. “Thank you for your attention to this important matter.”
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