Every 25 seconds, someone in America is arrested for drug possession and the number of Americans arrested for this charge has tripled since 1980 making it 1.3 million arrests per year in 2015. To be clear, that is six times the number of arrests for drug sales.
One-fifth of the people in prison, which is about 456,000, are serving time for a drug charge. Another 1.15 million people are on probation and/or parole for a drug-related offense.
Putting people in prison for drug-related offenses has been proven to have little positive impact. Instead, throwing people in prison for drug-related charges is linked to increased mortality from an overdose. In the first two weeks after being released from prison people are almost 13 times more likely to die from an overdose than the general population.
Since 1971, the war on drugs has cost the US over $1 trillion. In 2015 alone, the federal government spent an estimated $9.2 million every day to incarcerate people with drug-related offenses making that more than #3.3 billion annually.
If marijuana is legalized it would save around $7.7 billion per year in averted enforcement costs and would create an additional $6 billion in tax revenue.
“We have been engaged in [the war on drugs] for decades now with a huge cost and the destruction of a whole lot of lives of people who were never involved in any violent activities.”
~ Sen. Bernie Sanders
The War on Drugs
During the 1960s the federal government decided to stop research into the safety and usefulness of certain drugs and began efforts to eliminate drugs across the country.
President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in June 1971, saying,
“America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse.”
A top Nixon aide admitted that the real reason for starting the war on drugs was to take on anti-war hippies and African-Americans. Associate them with drugs and demonize them on the news.
The number of people jailed for nonviolent drug offenses exploded from 50,000 in 1980 to more than 400,000 in 1997. To make matters worse the frequency with which offenders end up back in the prison system showed an upward trend as well.
When President Ronald Reagan launched his “Just Say No” campaign, zero-tolerance policies and mandatory minimum sentences were created, resulting in more severe penalties for drug-related offenses.
The war on drugs has historically focused on punishing people instead of helping and treating people causing a vicious cycle of crime, corruption, criminalization, and media hysteria. Prison populations soared, while investments in treatment and rehabilitation were reduced dramatically or stopped completely.
“Cannabis prohibition, a key pillar of the failed war on drugs, has caused substantial harm to our communities and small businesses, and especially for communities of color.” Senator Wyden
Marijuana currently shares the same classification as heroin, LSD, and Ecstasy which are all Schedule 1.
However, the CBD movement pathed a way for medical marijuana to be legalized in 37 states and eighteen states including the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Though legalization of marijuana has gained a lot of traction statewide it has always stalled out before reaching the federal level.
“It’s not just an idea whose time has come. It’s long overdue. Overcriminalization has been one of the great historical wrongs. The War on Drugs has been a war on people—particularly people of color. The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act aims to end the decades of harm inflicted on communities of color by removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances and empowering states to implement their own cannabis laws.” – Senator Schumer
The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act
The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act is a draft bill containing 163 pages and aims to federally reschedule cannabis, expunge prior convictions, allow people to petition for resentencing, and maintain the authority of states to set their own marijuana policies.
It was announced on July 14, 2021, and is the creation of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, and Senator Cory Booker.
Some of the provisions included are:
- Minimum age of 21 is required to buy cannabis and a limit of retail sales transactions at the state level to 10 ounces of cannabis at a time.
- Revenue from the tax would be used to fund grant programs for communities most impacted by marijuana prosecutions.
- The regulatory authority over cannabis would be transferred from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
- States would still be allowed to set their own marijuana laws, but businesses and individuals in states that have legalized it would be allowed to sell and consume marijuana without the risk of federal punishment.
- The bill would also require federal districts to expunge nonviolent marijuana-related arrests and convictions within one year. People currently serving time for a nonviolent marijuana-related offense will be able to petition a court for resentencing.
- An Opportunity Trust Fund will be established to use federal cannabis tax revenue to reinvest in communities and help “level the playing field for entrepreneurs of color who continue to face barriers of access to the industry.”
“It’s as simple as this: Senators Booker, Schumer, and I want to bring common sense to the federal government, end prohibition and restore the lives of those hurt most and set them up for the opportunity.”- Senator Wyden
“At long last, we are taking steps in the Senate to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs.” Schumer
According to the draft bill, by ending the criminalization of marijuana, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act will ensure that Americans — especially Black and Brown Americans — no longer have to fear arrest or be barred from public housing or federal financial aid for higher education for using cannabis in states where it’s legal.
If the bill were to become law the attorney general will have 60 days to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
Even though this is something many people want and stand by it faces steep odds in the 50-50 Senate. Once the bill is introduced it is likely to face an uphill battle where every Democrat and independent, as well as at least 10 Republican Senators will be needed to back the legislation for it to pass.
Not to mention the fact that, as of yet, President Biden has not endorsed the bill and has mentioned in the past that he is opposed to adult-use legalization despite the bipartisan support. During his campaign, he stated he was for modest pledges to decriminalize cannabis possession, expunge prior records, and respect state legalization laws but he might not agree with a comprehensive policy change.
How Can You Help?
This draft and overall conversation is a major milestone for marijuana activists and a sign of how much the debate has grown in the topics of criminal justice and the war on drugs. However, this alone is not enough. This bill needs to be iron clad with a show of majority support to pass each step and become law.
The sponsors of the bill are asking for public input to further improve the legislation before it is formally introduced.
- Measuring the potency of cannabis products, the overlap of definitions for hemp and marijuana, regulations for synthetic THC, regulatory responsibilities for various federal agencies, and FDA funding.
- Coordinating federal and state law enforcement responsibilities for cannabis, state “primacy regarding cannabis regulation” and interstate commerce.
- Balancing efforts to reduce barriers to entry to the marijuana industry while mitigating the influence of illicit cannabis operators.
- Determining whether cannabis products should go through a premarket review before being marketed.
- How to deal with international treaty obligations with respect to marijuana.
Interested parties are encouraged to submit comments on these and other issues to Cannabis_Reform@finance.senate.gov by September 1.
“Descheduling cannabis is a critical step towards achieving justice for those targeted and hard hit by the War on Drugs. But that alone is not enough.”