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News, Politics

What the New Attorney General Means for Cannabis Reform

Ashley Priest

by Ashley Priest

March 16, 2021 03:30 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
What the New Attorney General Means for Cannabis Reform

Note: Veriheal does not support or endorse any politician, political candidate, or policies. We merely report on the facts as they are presented and their implications in regards to cannabis.

Anytime a new administration enters the White House, it raises concerns among the cannabis community as the various picks for different positions by the new administration could weigh heavily on patients and consumers alike in legal states. These individuals can also profoundly impact and influence laws and regulations within states still supporting prohibition. Much to the relief of many,  President Joe Biden’s pick to hold the position of Attorney General of the United States stated early this month that utilizing federal resources to go after individuals and businesses complying with state-level cannabis laws is not a useful use of limited resources. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, when asked by Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, a longtime advocate for cannabis reform, Attorney General nominee Judge Merrick Garland stated the following.

 “It does not seem to be useful the use of limited resources that we have to be pursuing prosecutions in states that have legalized and are regulating the use of marijuana, either medically or otherwise. I don’t think that’s a useful use.”

The Issue of Racial Disparity within the Justice System

Booker also brought up another essential topic that coincides with cannabis legalization, and that is the issue of racial bias within our justice system. As the Senator stated during his debate with Garland, “One of the big things driving arrests in our country—stunningly to me even that it is still the case—is marijuana arrests. We had in 2019 more marijuana arrests for possession than all violent crime arrests combined.” He went on to reiterate that those arrests are heavily disproportionate to black and brown Americans despite Caucasians consuming cannabis at comparable rates. He went on to ask a very important question regarding this topic, and that is: “Is that evidence that within the system there is implicit racial bias?

Garland replied, noting that it is “definitely evidence of a disparate treatment in the system,” which he expressed he felt arises out of implicit bias, or perhaps even unconscious or conscious bias and noted that was part of the reason he wanted to become the next Attorney General of the United States.

Noting the statement of implicit bias, Booker continued the conversation suggesting that this doesn’t necessarily mean that law enforcement is overtly racist despite there being racial disparities within the system. To this, Garland agreed and acknowledged that cannabis is a non-violent crime that causes significant hardship for those impacted by an arrest record for cannabis.

“Here’s a non-violent crime with respect to usage that does not require us to incarcerate people, and we’re incarcerating at significantly different rates of the different communities. That is wrong, and it’s the kind of problem that will then follow a person for the rest of their lives. It will make it impossible to get a job, it will lead to downward economic spiral for their family.”

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Cannabis enforcement is a stern example of institutionalized racism. By Attorney General nominee Garland acknowledging this within our system, he likely became one of the first top-level presidential appointees to speak out against the injustices caused by cannabis prohibition on communities most affected by the failed war on drugs. The effects felt by those who are arrested for cannabis are ongoing and result in a multitude of continual downfalls such as reduced wealth accumulation, lower wages, multi-generational poverty, and limited job and education opportunities.

What Powers Does the Attorney General Hold Regarding Cannabis Reform?

So, what positive impact could Garland have as Attorney General, and just how far could his influence reach? That is a great question. At the federal level, there are some actions that could be taken by the AG as well as the new administration to ease the burden of cannabis prohibition on communities of color. However, seeing how many of the cannabis arrests that affect these communities happen at the state or local level, outside of the direct power held by the attorney general’s office.

Garland, could, however, build upon a call to action introduced by U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus earlier this year. Along with these Representatives, 35 other lawmakers joined in urging President Joe Biden to use his executive powers to grant clemency and pardon those who have been convicted of cannabis offenses at the federal level.

The Possible Impacts 

If Biden were to utilize these powers, it could have a drastic influence on those with clemency powers at state and local levels. Whether Biden follows through or not will solidify whether or not the commitments he made during the democratic debates were real or just smoke and mirrors. Biden, for many years, has had a different approach to law enforcement policy regarding cannabis that has only changed in recent years.

By utilizing his powers for good to release and pardon cannabis offenders and urging those at the state and local levels to do the same, he could gain much trust. Trust that he does indeed have a different outlook and just may follow through with actually addressing the racial disparities and wrongdoings of cannabis prohibition that so many others have promised and never delivered upon. Perhaps with an Attorney General such as Garland at the helm, we might finally see change at the federal level regarding cannabis, or will we?

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