Lawmakers line up pot bills as remedy to 'War on Drugs'
Some state and federal lawmakers say the U.S. government has waged a pointless battle — the so-called War on Drugs — that ended in broken lives and needless convictions for many. The remedy, they say, is restorative justice.
In January of this year, Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer introduced H.R. 420 — which would remove marijuana from the federal government's controlled substances list, effectively legalizing the drug across the nation.
The congressman believes banks will be afraid to offer loans and other services to small-time pot shot owners as long as cannabis remains illegal on the federal level.
"There are people with shopping bags full of $20 bills (trying) to pay their state taxes," he said at a Saturday, March 9 press conference at the Urban League of Portland. "It's stupid."
Blumenauer, founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, has introduced similar proposed legislation before, but believes his chances are better this time with the support of California bay area Democrat Rep. Barbara Lee, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee.
Lee has her own slate of potential reforms, which she says would expunge misdemeanor convictions for marijuana possesssion "no questions asked" at the federal level. She would allot at least $500 million for restorative justice, noting that some states are using pot convictions to deny people access to Pell Grants, public housing and even SNAP food stamps.
Lee hopes the legislation will ensure that "the federal government understands the word and the power of the people, and to tell them to stop messing with us."
State Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, also has a state bill with the designation "S.B. 420," though unlike Blumenauer he claims the numbering was a complete concidence.
Since expungement costs time and money, his bill would simply vacate all Oregon convictions for possession of marijauna. The difficulty, however, is that Oregon courts recorded marijuana convictions under the broader heading of possession of a controlled substance, so prosecutors will need to dive into the details to find the right cases.
"The War on Drugs has not worked," Frederick said. "It has failed."
Also at the press conference were some of the few entrepreneurs of color to establish a presence in the marijuana industry. Nicole Kennedy is a co-owner of Green Hop, an African American-owned marijuana dispensary in Northeast Portland, while Adrian Wayman founded Green Box, the state's first cannabis delivery service. Both businesses have received grant funding from the city of Portland.
Wayman said he has personally struggled with a drug conviction dating back nearly a decade.
"That's something that's always been held over my head," he said. "You don't get to add any context to that box you have to check."