Controlled Substances Act

Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.

Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970, the Attorney General can remove a substance from the CSA by working with the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) since cannabis is nowhere nearly as harmful as the other substances on the list. Cannabis is currently a Schedule I narcotic while cocaine is a Schedule II narcotic.

“While Congress works to pass comprehensive cannabis reform, you can act now to decriminalize cannabis,” Booker and Warren wrote in a letter.

Decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level by having the Attorney General deschedulize it 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 during the War on Drugs, and facilitate valuable medical cannabis research.

The vast majority of the country supports the decriminalization of cannabis. Approximately 60 percent of adults believe that cannabis should be legal for medical and recreational use. An astonishing 91 percent of those surveyed support the legalization of medical cannabis only.

To date, 36 states, and Washington, DC have already legalized medical cannabis, and 18 states and DC have legalized cannabis for recreational adult-use.

“We urge the DOJ to initiate the process to decriminalize cannabis. 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,”  Booker and Warren wrote in the letter.

It’s notable that they seek to protect the state markets. While many states have legalized indeed legalized cannabis, it rests on shaky grounds since it is still illegal on the federal level.

Booker and Warren note in their letter that state-level legalizations have not led to an increase in traffic accidents or violent crime or use by teenagers. Thus, taking action at the federal level makes sense.

They argue that decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level is the critical first step in addressing the racial inequities in cannabis law enforcement. Federal cannabis policy has disproportionately affected the ability of People of Color in the United States to vote, pursue educational and career opportunities, and build wealth.

Moreover, decriminalizing cannabis is a vital step so that Americans seeking cannabis treatment options for conditions such as chronic pain, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and certain terminal illnesses can legally use the drug.

Booker has been a strong proponent of ending the War on Drugs and legalizing cannabis for a few years now. While Warren has not been in the spotlight the way Booker has on cannabis reform, she is nonetheless a stronger supporter of it. Like many in the cannabis industry, she is wary of Big Tobacco dominating the industry.

Attorney General Merrick Garland many believe is open to decriminalization. While President Joe Biden was open to the idea of decriminalization on the campaign trail, he has said little about the issue since taking office in January.

Removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act would negate the need to pass other decriminalization efforts which have an uncertain future in Congress.

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