Rep. Barbara Lee Introduces Bill to Promote Social Justice in Cannabis Industry
The RESPECT Resolution would not change federal law, but would encourage canna-legal states to ensure racial equality and inclusion in the marijuana trade.
Published on June 15, 2018

Photo via Jim Ratliff

This week, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) proposed the “RESPECT Resolution: Realizing Equitable & Sustainable Participation in Emerging Cannabis Trades” before the House of Representatives in order to urge politicians from canna-legal states to take steps to increase equity and inclusion in their states' marijuana industries. If passed, the resolution would not change any federal cannabis laws, but would only establish a set of best practices and measures to address social justice issues connected with legal cannabis.

“There's no question that there is growing momentum — both within Congress and nationwide — for cannabis legalization,” Lee said in a statement. “However, as we move into this new era, we must learn from the failed War on Drugs and ensure that entrepreneurs of color are included in this expanding industry. Due to unequal criminalization rates and disparities in access to capital, people of color are being locked out of the new and thriving legal cannabis trade.”

“We need to address the systemic exclusion and discrimination at play,” Lee continued. “Otherwise, we will be prolonging and encouraging the injustices of the past — where brown men spend their lives in prison for cannabis, while white communities get rich off the industry. I encourage my colleagues to support the RESPECT Resolution, the first bill in Congress focused on building equity in the cannabis industry.”

The resolution states that “the House of Representatives encourages States and localities to adopt best practices and take bold steps…to address disparities in the cannabis marketplace participation and to address, reverse, and repair the most egregious effects of the war on drugs on communities of color, in particular to those who now hold criminal records for a substance that is now legal and regulated.”

In order to ensure equal inclusion in the industry, the resolution encourages states to establish reasonable licensing and application fees, to set aside licenses for individuals most impacted by the war on drugs, to allow individuals with former cannabis convictions to participate in the industry, and to adopt regulations that will allow smaller businesses to compete with larger cannabis corporations.

The resolution also makes several recommendations for reversing the effects of decades of disproportionately-enforced cannabis prohibition laws, suggesting that states create “an automatic process, at no cost for the individual, for the expungement or sealing of criminal records for cannabis offenses,” including current offenses. States are also encouraged to allow cannabis offenders who are currently in prison or on probation to have their sentences reduced or ended, and to prohibit suspicionless drug tests.

Several canna-legal states have already put several of these practices into effect on their own. In California, Proposition 64 allows individuals to petition to have their cannabis convictions cleared. Due to the cost and effort involved in this process, many cities have agreed to automatically identify and expunge eligible convictions, and a new bill would require all courts in the state to automatically clear all eligible convictions if passed.

Several California cities, like Oakland, have already included provisions to ensure equal minority participation in their local cannabis industries, but other states are struggling with this issue. In Maryland, the rollout of the state's medical cannabis industry was delayed by legal challenges after state regulators failed to offer any cannabis licenses to minority business owners. This April, the state finally passed a bill to expand the number of licenses available to minority businesses.

“The systemic prejudice of the failed war on drugs is a stain on America's history. As these outdated and discriminatory policies come to an end, we must address the damage done to communities of color and ensure equal access to the growing cannabis economy,” said Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), one of the thirteen co-sponsors of the resolution. “I'm proud to join my friend and colleague, Congresswoman Lee, in this effort — which is an important step in the right direction.”

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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