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As cannabis reform measures continue to find success on state-level election ballots and law books, a growing number of legislators in Washington D.C. are quickly coming to grips with the dangerous societal standards set by drug prohibition, even as wider forces in Congress remain stuck in the past.
In the most recent narcotic-focused concession from atop Capitol Hill, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) introduced a measure offering an official apology to victims of America’s War on Drugs, admitting racial bias and ignorance of the science behind addiction across decades of U.S. drug enforcement.
According to Marijuana Moment, Rep. Coleman’s amendment, added to the end of a wide-ranging opioid treatment bill, was rejected by the House Rules Committee this week, but nevertheless signifies a larger trend in the federal legislature to seek both symbolic and law-altering rebukes to America’s failing drug policies.
“It is the sense of Congress that the War on Drugs is a racially charged policy that has led to the mass incarceration of millions of Americans, disproportionately affecting communities of color, stigmatized these communities as the cause of the drug problem, and has economically, politically, and socially crippled these communities for decades,” Rep. Coleman’s now-defeated bill reads.
With language that admits fault and could potentially be used as part of an argument to challenge federal narcotics prohibition across the board, it is not a surprise that House Republicans rejected the apology measure, and yet still, the fact that the bill was introduced at all is a step in the right direction.
In another recent show of symbolic support for those harmed by U.S. narcotics laws, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced the “RESPECT Resolution: Realizing Equitable & Sustainable Participation in Emerging Cannabis Trades” bill last week in an effort to establish a concrete set of racially-sensitive best practices for emerging state-legal cannabis industries.
“...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,” Rep. Lee said in a statement introducing the legislation. “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.”
A number of state-specific initiatives have sought to establish equity programs focused on welcoming entrepreneurs of color into legal weed markets, but the proposals from Reps. Coleman and Lee, as well as a more detailed federal legalization bill introduced by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, represent a progressive shift at the national scale.
And while Rep. Coleman’s apology measure was quickly squashed by notorious anti-cannabis Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) and the House Rules Committee, Rep. Lee’s RESPECT bill and Sen. Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act are both alive and well.