WASHINGTON – Two leading progressive U.S. senators are urging Attorney General Merrick Garland to decriminalize marijuana on his own. With efforts to normalize cannabis stalled on Capitol Hill, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to the Department of Justice this week, asking Garland and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to use powers granted them under the Controlled Substances Act to deschedule — or decriminalize — marijuana at the federal level.
Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA), the senators argue, if the attorney general and the health secretary are in agreement, they have the power to remove substances from the federal controlled substances list on their own.
Even with 36 states, four territories, various tribes and the District of Columbia having legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational uses, federally cannabis remains classified alongside heroin as a Schedule I substance, even as OxyContin and cocaine are categorized as Schedule II, which the senators decry.
“We urge the DOJ to initiate the process to decriminalize cannabis,” Booker and Warren write. “Doing so would be an important first step in the broader tasks of remedying the harmful racial impact of our nation’s enforcement of cannabis laws and ensuring that states can effectively regulate the growing cannabis industry, including by assisting small business owners and those most harmed by our historical enforcement of cannabis laws.”
In their letter, the senators use President Joe Biden’s own words to make their case.
“It is far past time to decriminalize the use of cannabis in the United States. On the campaign trail, President Biden promised to ‘decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions.’ He declared that ‘[n]obody should be in jail for smoking marijuana,’” the senators argue.
It’s also a racial equity issue, the senators write to Garland and Becerra.
“Decriminalizing cannabis is also a critical first step in addressing the racial inequities in cannabis law enforcement,” the letter reads. “You can begin to repair the harm that the criminalization of cannabis has wrought on communities of color by using your statutory and regulatory authority to deschedule this drug.”
The senators’ final argument in favor of decriminalizing marijuana is focused on the medicinal properties of the popular plant.
“Moreover, decriminalizing cannabis is a vital step so that Americans seeking cannabis as a medical treatment option for conditions such as chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and terminal illness can legally use the drug,” Sens. Booker and Warren write. “Decriminalizing cannabis is crucial to facilitating scientific research and would be invaluable to doctors and patients across the nation.”
The senators are asking for a response from the Biden administration by Oct. 20.