Less than one month after three United States senators penned a letter to Joe Biden urging him to change federal cannabis policies and pardon non-violent cannabis offenders, three members of Congress have also sent a letter.
On Thursday, December 2, Representatives Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Barbara Lee (D-CA) wrote to Biden, requesting that he pardon all federal non-violent cannabis convictions.
Blumenauer and Lee previously wrote a similar letter to Biden on February 18, 2021, which 35 members of Congress signed.
Bowman, Blumenauer, and Lee are members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, where Blumenauer and Lee are co-chairs.
“Many remain behind bars due to racially discriminatory cannabis policies and continue to accrue criminal fees,” states the December 2 letter. “To begin rectifying the damage done by these discriminatorily implemented policies and reunite families convicted of nonviolent cannabis offenses, whether formally or currently incarcerated. We further write to specify that all federal criminal fines and fees be cancelled for all nonviolent cannabis offenses.”
Taking a Different Approach
The letter states that many Americans do not believe in taking a punitive approach to cannabis and have benefited significantly from efforts to ease or abolish cannabis regulations at the state or local level.
Citing a Pew Research Center report on how Americans view cannabis, the letter states that 91 percent of respondents support medical or adult-use cannabis use.
The letter notes that 27 states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of cannabis for recreational use, and 36 states and four territories have legalized medicinal cannabis use.
The representatives also state in the letter that cannabis legalization did not lead to a substantial increase in crime, traffic injuries, or traffic fatalities.
Instead, the letter says that cannabis legalization has led to considerable economic benefits.
But while there are benefits to legalization, the representatives say they are not equal.
“…only 5.7% of marijuana business owners are Latinx and only 4.3% are Black while 81% are white, showing the communities targeted by discriminatory cannabis laws have not commensurately benefited from legalization,” states the letter. “As the American public continues to voice its pro-legalization position, it’s important that the Black and brown communities most directly harmed by past and current cannabis laws are able to directly benefit from legalization efforts, which includes small business opportunities.”
Legalize, Save Lives
Additionally, the letter states that timely legalization could save lives, stem the national opioid crisis, and create thousands of jobs.
Historically, the representatives say that criminal justice fines and fees have had a racially discriminatory impact on local communities, stating that many local governments have grown increasingly financially dependent on the funds to balance their budgets.
The letter references a study showing that more than 600 jurisdictions relied on the fees for more than ten percent of their general fund revenues.
According to the study, the fees accounted for more than 20 percent of revenues in more than 280 of those jurisdictions.
“Communities of color as well as the poor disproportionately suffer the costs of these fines because the jurisdictions most financially dependent on punitive municipal funding have higher than average African American and Latinx populations,” states the letter. “In 2010, individuals involved with the criminal justice system owed over $50 billion in total—money effectively extracted from communities of color that could otherwise facilitate economic growth.”
A Responsibility to the People
The representatives write that the federal government has a moral responsibility to stand against the system’s structural racism and incentivize municipalities to follow suit.
The letter states that Congress needs to act and reimagine America’s cannabis policies.
While House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler’s re-introduced “Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act” (MORE) would decriminalize cannabis and establish an expungement process, the letter states that Joe Biden holds unilateral power to issue a blanket pardon of all non-violent cannabis offenses.
“Mass incarceration has disproportionately harmed Black and brown communities and its impact can be felt everywhere,” states the letter. “Every non-violent offender given the opportunity to return home can create a positive ripple effect by reuniting families, connecting people to work opportunities, and beginning the road to healing from the harm these policies continue to inflict.”
In closing, the representatives urge Joe Biden to utilize his power to pardon all individuals convicted of non-violent cannabis offenses and cancel all related federal fines and fees to reunite families and communities in time for the winter holidays.