Can Chuck Schumer rally enough Senate support for weed reform?
The Democratic Leader plans to introduce legislation to decriminalize marijuana this summer. The public is ready, but it’s unsure if his chamber — or the Biden administration — will follow suit.
Among Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer’s legislative priorities when Congress returns from recess next week is advancing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.
The CAOA would decriminalize marijuana, expunge federal cannabis offenses, reinvest funds into communities most affected by decades of unjust and discriminatory drug policy and include crucial provisions to combat drugged driving, protect public health and safety, prevent youth access and preserve states’ authority over their own cannabis laws.
Schumer said in a statement last week that he intends to introduce the legislation, which he’s leading with Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Cory Booker of New Jersey, before the Senate’s August recess.
“The criminalization of cannabis has torn families apart and has had the most impact on Black people and people of color — so much so that Black people are still more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people in every state, including those that have legalized cannabis for medical and/or recreational use,” Jayde Powell, co-founder of Weed For Black Women, a media, culture, and community hub that empowers Black women to be their best selves through weed. “We cannot pass legislation without thinking first of those whose lives have been negatively impacted by marijuana criminalization.”
Morgan Fox, political director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, explained to me over the phone that marijuana prohibition began because of racial animus towards people of color, particularly Black Americans and immigrants from Latin America who were starting to take jobs that supposedly belonged to white people.
It had become harder to explicitly criminalize Black people and the anti-war left, politicians and policymakers decided to start heavily focusing on cannabis and heroin and associating those communities with those particular drugs and then criminalizing those drugs as much as they possibly could.
Since former President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, 30 million people in the country arrested for cannabis at great social and economic costs to the country.
“Both in terms of the damage that is done to individuals with having a arrest record or being removed from their communities, the damage that is done to their family and communities, the damage that it's done to both of these marginalized communities to be able to create generational wealth, and the the tremendous cost associated with enforcement and incarceration,” Fox told me. “As well as wage steady erosion of civil liberties that we've seen in pursuing the drug war.”
The House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act last month, which in addition to decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level, would allow people with cannabis-related convictions to have their records expunged and require federal courts to conduct re-sentencing hearings for those still under supervision for cannabis-related offenses.
The MORE Act would also remove weed from the Controlled Substances Act and empower states with the sole authority to determine cannabis policy. (Marijuana is currently in the same class as heroin and ecstasy.)
The CAOA would also remove unnecessary federal employee pre-employment and random drug testing for cannabis and ensure worker protections for those employed in the cannabis industry.
Powell from Weed For Black Women said she would propose that multi-state cannabis or hemp operators be required to reinvest a percentage of their profits into nonprofits or causes that support the empowerment of rehabilitation of victims of the war on drugs and ensure that revenue from cannabis taxes are dedicated to programs in which the individuals convicted can receive jobs at dispensaries, grow facilities, or within cannabis companies.
The majority of Americans agree with several of these proposals. And Fox from NORML pointed to the advent of the internet and social media, which has empowered people to educate themselves about the impacts of the war on drugs, people’s choice to consume cannabis responsibly or otherwise, and the direct effects that cannabis criminalization policies have on people and on entire communities.
“There’s so much more information available in terms on cannabis’s relative safety compared to things like alcohol,” he said. “So that is really helping to change people’s minds and remove a lot of the stigmas.”
In the past decade, the way people view cannabis legalization for adults has evolved.
“Going back to the campaign leading up to Colorado legalizing cannabis for adults in 2012. At that time a lot of internal polling campaign suggested that the idea of retroactive amnesty or expungement of past cannabis convictions was shown through polling to be a bill killer,” Fox said. “People thought that, ‘You did the crime when it was illegal, it shouldn’t be retroactive at all.’ There was really no discussion whatsoever of things like social equity.”
Fast-forward a decade and conversations and it’s uncommon to talk about legalizing cannabis without talking about social equity and social justice.
“I think that that is just a huge evolution in the issue and one that is certainly positive.”
The White House seems disinclined to invest any political capital on this issue despite Joe Biden‘s promise to decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions when he was a presidential candidate.
“Biden believes no one should be in jail because of cannabis use,” his campaign website read in 2020.
Then-candidate Biden said he would leave decisions on recreational cannabis use to the states, he also committed to rescheduling cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts and support the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes.
“[The administration has] done absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing,” Fox said. “There have been no effort for things like pardons or expungement at the federal level from the administration. There have been no instructions to federal agencies like the [Department of Justice or Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs to not exclusively target state legal cannabis programs or state and tribal cannabis programs. We’ve seen none of that.”
A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
I asked Fox to share the challenges Senate Democrats face in their effort to decriminalize weed.
For starters, there’s no uniform consent on even the simple idea of descheduling cannabis within the Senate Democratic Caucus — and it’s just worse on the GOP side.
Not to mention, these types of bills are comprehensive and expansive, so Leader Schumer could start to lose support from lawmakers who are generally supportive of legalization because of one detail here or there.
Fox also brought up the filibuster, which will require at least 10 votes from Senate Republicans on any meaningful legislation.
“That’s not to say that it can’t happen. It just means that there’s going to be a lot of work left to do for the rest of the year.”
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TODAY IN POLITICS
President Biden this morning will receive his daily intelligence briefing. He will then meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Combatant Commanders. This evening, the president and First Lady Jill Biden will host a dinner for the leaders and their spouses.
Vice President Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff are at their Brentwood, California home. She has no public events on her schedule.
The House is out.
The Senate is out.
IN THE KNOW
— President Biden convened a call with US allies and partners to discuss international support for Ukraine as Russia intensifies the latest phase of its invasion. Biden is expected to announce his authorization of another $800 million to Ukraine for assistance and additional sanctions on Russian leaders soon.
— The International Monetary Fund toned down its expectations for global economic growth over the next two years because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.The outlook is based on the war-induced spike in the price of energy and other commodities, worsening supply chain problems and feeding expectations for more persistent inflation. (Julia Horowitz / CNN Business)
— Moderna announced that a new version of its COVID-19 vaccine could provide stronger, longer-lasting protection against future variants of the virus than the company’s original vaccine. The study has not yet been reviewed by independent scientists and produced mixed reactions from outside experts. (Rob Stein / NPR)
— The Justice Department will appeal a decision by a Florida district court judge on Monday to lift a federal mask mandate for public transportation if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines the requirement is still necessary for public health. The White House, Justice Department and CDC are all playing hot potato with a politically charged issue that none want to have to deal with right now.
— President Biden announced a new program focused on facilitating federal resources to rural communities. It will be administered by the United States Department of Agriculture and start with a five-state cohort of Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and New Mexico. Senior administration officials told reporters during a press call it hopes to announce a second cohort by this August and roll the program out to more states next year.
— The president also restored a rule requiring agencies to analyze the climate impacts of proposed highways, pipelines and other projects. The rule, which takes effect in 30 days and had been removed during the Trump administration, would also ensure agencies give communities directly affected by projects a greater role in the approval process. (Lisa Friedman / NYT)
— Related: The Biden administration is launching a $6 billion effort to rescue nuclear power plants at risk of closing. It cites the need to continue nuclear energy as a carbon-free source of power that helps to combat climate change as a reason for the effort. (Jennifer McDermott and Matthew Daly / AP News)
— Senior White House officials hosted a roundtable discussion with state legislators from Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma to discuss their efforts to protect access to reproductive health care in light of a series of abortion restrictions in their states. The legislators also shared steps they have taken to oppose new legislative proposals ahead of a key Supreme Court decision on the right to abortion care expected this summer.
— The Education Department announced a series of actions that it says will result in immediate debt cancellation for at least 40,000 borrowers and at least three years of additional credit toward forgiveness for more than 3.6 million borrowers.The steps come as the White House weighs whether to cancel student debt with President Biden’s executive authority.
— The Department of Health and Human Services awarded nearly $105 million in grant funding to 54 states and territories in advance of the transition of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline from the current 10-digit number to the 988 three-digit dialing code in July. States and territories are expected to use the funds to improve response rates, increase capacity to meet future demand, and ensure calls initiated in their states or territories are first routed to local, regional, or state crisis call centers.
— Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and chair of the Progressive Caucus sent a letter to House leadership to advance legislation that would strengthen social security and increase benefits. The bill would update several provisions and establish a trust fund to extend its solvency. Jayapal said the proposed reforms would be paid for with taxes from millionaires and billionaires.
— The Democratic Party is reportedly considering banning its consultants from participating in union-busting, aiding an employer in a labor dispute or lobbying against union-backed legislation. The proposal follows a report that one of its pollsters had helped Amazon combat organizing efforts. (Eleanor Mueller / Politico)
— Four in 10 Americans report worrying a great deal about illegal immigration, while the percentage not worried at all has more than doubled since 2006. Look for politicians from both sides to exploit the first group as the midterm campaigns heat up this summer. (Lydia Saad / Gallup)
READ ALL ABOUT IT
Suzanne Woolley on why more millennials are saving for retirement years earlier than Boomers:
Despite their efforts to put money aside early, many millennials worry that they won't actually be able to retire, and their view of what retirement means is also much different than boomers.
Many younger workers likely are saving earlier for retirement than boomers simply by virtue of being auto-enrolled into their company’s 401(k) plan rather than having to opt into such plans, like boomers had to. More workplace retirement plans are also adding auto-escalation clauses, where participants’ contribution as a percentage of their pre-tax paycheck is automatically bumped up 1% a year.
Anna North on the COVID child care crisis:
The job has gotten even harder during the pandemic, with new risks, like the possibility of contracting Covid-19, and new requirements, like making a room full of toddlers keep their masks on at all times, constantly sanitizing toys and surfaces, and coping with lost enrollment as parents pull their kids out over Covid fears or because they’ve lost their jobs. Inflation is driving up the cost of basic supplies and stretching providers’ budgets even further. “Our plastic cups and our materials actually cost more,” said Reena Abraham, owner of the Learning Experience, a Brooklyn child care center.
There’s a limit to how much providers can raise prices, though. Child care costs more than college tuition in many states — in Connecticut, it averages $15,501 per year — and many families can’t afford to pay much more. Indeed, experts in the field say the only way to fix the system is for the government to dramatically scale up its investment, increasing subsidies to help families afford care and make sure workers earn a living wage. However, with President Joe Biden’s big social spending package, which included funding for child care and preschool, stalled in Congress, it’s not clear when — if ever — such help will arrive.
Meanwhile, the sector is rapidly losing workers. More than 560,000 people worked in child care in 2019, but one-third of those jobs were lost at the start of the pandemic. The industry hasn’t recovered, dropping 4,500 jobs between September and November 2021 and another 3,700 jobs in December alone. In a lot of cases, workers are leaving for better pay as elementary school teachers, or in other sectors, such as hospitality or warehouse work. “We are competing with restaurants and Amazon for staffing,” Abraham said.
Christian Paz on where crime really matters in the 2022 midterms:
As political issues, crime and public safety carry a heavier cost in local elections, where policy is made and the voters most affected by and worried about crime are concentrated. The progressive-moderate tension within the Democratic Party is also more pronounced on this issue because many debates on policing and public safety are happening in municipalities dominated by Democrats. With growing discontent with Democratic governance in general, crime might just be one of a laundry list of Republican attacks, and not the decisive issue for control of Congress that many doomsayers are claiming it will be.
Richard V. Reeves on why the US needs to end legacy admissions:
What’s needed here is a change in social norms. Many upper-middle-class parents feel little compunction about pulling every string possible to get their offspring a place at a prestigious college, even if that means elbowing out a more qualified but less fortunate applicant. The prevailing norm in the U.S. is that parents should do everything possible to help their children get ahead of others. This doesn’t have to be ethical. It just has to be legal.
The fact is that if we don’t want to live in a nepotistic society, we have to stop practicing nepotism. And by “we,” I mean you. It is that simple, and that difficult. It is good news that a handful of legislators are willing to take up this cause. But they won’t succeed if they are going against the cultural tide. On legacy admissions as on anything else, the equilibrium can be shifted. But it won’t shift on its own. If you think the game is rigged, and especially if it is rigged in your favor, the right thing to do is refuse to play.
Eleanor Cummins on what Americans keep getting wrong about exercise:
Evidence on what exercise regimens Americans actually prefer is scant. But Casey Johnston, a health writer and author of the beginner strength training program Liftoff: Couch to Barbell, says that of all the many conversations she’s had with people about their exercise, she can’t recall a single person who’s actually tried something like the seven-minute workout, let alone stuck with it. From what she can tell, people quickly become fatigued of the routine, and few people seem to really enjoy sweating like a dog, but that’s what all the promised benefits of HIIT demand. “Those six minutes,” as Reynolds wrote in her first entry into the short-workout genre in 2009, “if they’re to be effective, must hurt.” The success of these stories, Johnston says, is almost certainly “vicarious”—an interest among readers in what they could do, but not a lifestyle they’re adopting.
As the new Netflix documentary White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch explores, the brand’s legacy is complicated for a number of reasons: its run as the prom king of the mall was characterized by overwhelming store designs and overly strong cologne, but also by discriminatory hiring practices and racist T-shirts. What the documentary makes clear is that Abercrombie’s uniquely toxic blend of exclusivity and prescriptive fashion could not exist in today’s world or style landscape—but also that those qualities were central to making it an enormous brand in the first place.
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