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Democratic divide puts congressional action on marijuana in doubt

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A split on Capitol Hill over marijuana policy has lawmakers confronting the possibility that they could again fail to pass any meaningful changes to the federal prohibition of cannabis this Congress, even as polls show vast majorities of Americans support at least partial legalization of the drug. The clash, on one level, follows familiar contours for Washington policymaking: A narrower measure with significant bipartisan support — one that would make it easier for banks to do business with legitimate cannabis firms in states where marijuana is legal — is in limbo while a smaller group of lawmakers pushes for a much broader bill. But it has also become infused with questions of racial equity and political competence that have pitted key Democrats against each other as they seek a way to roll back federal marijuana laws that have gone largely unchanged since the height of the War on Drugs in the 1980s and 1990s. The conflict has come to a head in recent weeks after a push by Democratic and Republican lawmakers to attach the narrower banking legislation to the must-pass annual defense policy bill, which would ensure its passage in the coming months. The bill’s advocates say it would offer a substantial step toward legitimizing and rationalizing the cannabis industry in the 47 states that have moved to at least partially legalize marijuana — allowing businesses to move away from risky cash-only operations. That push has hit a roadblock in the Senate, however, where Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N. Y.) has sided with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N. J.) and Ron Wyden (D-N. J.), who are seeking to assemble a comprehensive bill that would federally decriminalize the drug, tax it and potentially expunge the criminal records of those previously convicted of having bought or sold it. Passing the narrower bill, they argue, would make passing their broader bill more difficult.“To me, it wouldn’t be a win,” Booker said Tuesday. “It would be a setback for expunging the records of all of the people who are waiting for some kind of justice. And unfortunately, if you do that, the pressure won’t be there to get it done.”The senators say their bill aims to “end the decades of harm inflicted on communities of color,” with not only automatic expungement for nonviolent marijuana offenses but the establishment of a new fund that would invest specifically in minority communities targeted in the War on Drugs and support “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals” seeking to enter the legal cannabis industry. Those pushing for a narrower bill, Booker added, “are doing a big disservice to our ability to get restorative justice principles passed, and it’s really unfortunate they can’t see the urgency for the millions of Americans who are carrying criminal charges for nonviolent drug offenses involving marijuana and have had their lives destroyed because of a war on marijuana that has disproportionately impacted people of color.

All data is taken from the source: http://washingtonpost.com
Article Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/marijuana-democrats-legalize/2021/11/17/61dd37b4-47b3-11ec-95dc-5f2a96e00fa3_story.html

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