On July 21, 2022, Senator Cory Booker, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act which will “decriminalize and deschedule cannabis, to provide for reinvestment in certain persons adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, to provide for expungement of certain cannabis offenses”.
Cannabis has been federally illegal in the United States since 1937 with the passage of the Marihuana [sic] Tax Act, championed by the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger.
Cannabis prohibition shut down research into the potential of the plant as medicine. The policy was also cornerstone of building the largest prison population in human history. The United States leads the world in incarceration rates, accounting for 25% of the world’s prison population, and incarcerates over 400,000 more people than does China. One in 5 incarcerated Americans are locked up for a drug offense.
According to an ACLU report, of “the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana. Nationwide, the arrest data revealed one consistent trend: significant racial bias. Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.”
The War on Drugs is racially and politically motivated, not motivated by protecting citizens from the perceived dangers of drugs. The War on Drugs, a mass intensification of drug law enforcement, community harassment, and incarceration began in 1972 and was launched by President Richard Nixon as a response to the African-American Civil Rights Movement and the movement to stop the war in Vietnam. John Erlichmann, an aide to President Nixon, later admitted:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.https://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/
Several national polls show the majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing cannabis on the federal level. The latest poll from The Economist/Yougov.com resulted in 58% of Americans (and even half of Republicans) answering “Yes, it should be legal” to the question, “Do you think that the use of marijuana should be made legal in the United States or not?” The latest Gallup and Rasmussen polls found support for national legalization at 68% and 62%, respectively.
A major snag in this bill sponsored by Democrats may be President Joe Biden himself. While stating multiple times that he sought to decriminalize marijuana and opposes incarceration for drug use during the 2020 campaign, activists have been frustrated that President Biden has yet to wield his executive power to do more. For example, President Biden has the power to pardon all people incarcerated for non-violent cannabis possession charges (or drug possession charges in general) but refuses to.
Even as 50% of registered Republicans are in favor of marijuana legalization, Republican members of Congress are likely to vote against a bill sponsored by Democrats unless pressured by their constituents.