US Senators appeal to Attorney General to federally decriminalise cannabis

12th October 2021

Two US senators have applied to Attorney General Merrick Garland to use his authority to end the federal criminalisation of cannabis in a recent letter.

Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) addressed a letter to Attorney General Garland to make the case that the Justice Department should initiate a de-scheduling process to the federal criminalisation of cannabis.

The letter claims that the change would “allow states to regulate cannabis as they see fit, begin to remedy the harm caused by decades of racial disparities in enforcement of cannabis laws, and facilitate valuable medical research.”

“While Congress works to pass comprehensive cannabis reform, you can act now to decriminalize cannabis,” the letter, which was first reported by The News Station, states.

It continues: “It is far past time to decriminalize the use of cannabis in the United States.

“Decriminalizing cannabis is also a critical first step in addressing the racial inequities in cannabis law enforcement,” the senators said, as people of [colour] are far more likely to be criminalized over marijuana despite comparable rates of usage among races.

“Federal cannabis policy has disproportionately affected the ability of people of [colour] in the United States to vote, to pursue education, and to build intergenerational wealth.

“You can begin to repair the harm that the criminalization of cannabis has wrought on communities of [colour] by using your statutory and regulatory authority to de-schedule this drug.”

Read the full letter here.

The Attorney General is able, through a statutory process, to request a scientific review from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) into the criminalisation of cannabis. The findings of this review would then be submitted to the Department of Justice for consideration.

The HHS Secretary could potentially also submit a re-scheduling petition which would be reviewed by the Attorney General – or delegated to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

The current HHS Secretary, Xavier Becerra, who was also CC’d in the letter, has demonstrated support for cannabis reforms in the past.

Nonetheless, even if one of these avenues to de-schedule cannabis is implemented, it remains uncertain whether the Attorney General has the authority to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act rather than simply moving the drug to a lower schedule.

The US is a signatory of international treaties which may prevent the federal government or the Attorney General from removing cannabis outright from the country’s list of controlled substances.

However, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, as well as all those who support the decriminalisation of cannabis, will be waiting eagerly for a response from the Attorney General in the coming days and weeks.

There have been a number of pushes for reform to cannabis policy in recent months, including another motion backed by Senator Cory Booker, alongside the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, which would legalise the drug at the federal level.

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