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Blumenauer, Wyden praise Biden’s marijuana pardons

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Oregon Capital Bureau

Two Oregon members of Congress welcomed President Joe Biden’s pardons of 6,500 people convicted on federal charges of simple possession of marijuana.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Sen. Ron Wyden also praised Biden’s announcement that the federal government will review its long-standing classification of marijuana as a drug with no medical value under a 1970 law.

Biden’s announcement on Thursday, Oct. 6, also affects thousands of people convicted of possession in Washington, D.C., which is under federal jurisdiction. It covers convictions from 1992 through 2021, though it does not affect convictions under federal law for distribution or sale of the drug.

Oregon is among 19 states, plus Washington, D.C., that have legalized adult possession and use of marijuana in the past decade. Six more states have ballot measures pending Nov. 8. Oregon is also among 37 states that authorize some form of cannabis for medical use, although it is limited in some states. Just three states do not, beyond what a 2018 federal law allows for hemp, which is low in the psychoactive component in cannabis that provides a high.

Oregon was the first state back in 1973 to make possession of one ounce or less punishable by a traffic-style ticket and a $100 maximum fine. (The maximum now is $1,000, though it’s rarely levied.) Voters rejected an attempt by the Legislature to reimpose criminal penalties in 1998, the same year they approved marijuana for medical use, and approved full legalization in 2014. Oregon was not the first state to take the latter two actions.

Both Blumenauer and Wyden are advancing efforts to allow access by cannabis businesses to regular banking functions. The Democratic controlled House has passed such measures seven times, most recently in April 2021, but none has come to a vote in the Senate. The 2021 measure was attached to a defense spending authorization, but was stripped out before final action.

Earl Blumenauer

Blumenauer is co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. His statement:

“Today, President Biden took an important step in the fight to end the federal government’s failed and discriminatory prohibition of cannabis. No president has stepped forward to pardon low-level marijuana offenders at this scale before. At a time when 99% of Americans live in a state where some form of cannabis use is legal, it is unthinkable that anyone — especially predominantly Black, Latinx, and Indigenous Americans — are imprisoned for simple, nonviolent cannabis possession.

“This is a critically important step forward for racial justice in the failed war on drugs that too often targeted people of color, especially Black and Latino men. While this announcement is welcome and long overdue, it is just the first step of many that this administration should take.

“We have pending legislation that deals with medical marijuana research and the ability for cannabis businesses to access banking services — both of which have gained support in the House and Senate. The president should embrace and celebrate. It is critical that we put the full force of the federal government behind them.

“There was a time when this was controversial. Yet for several years, the federal government has been left behind by people and states who did not wait. Not only does more than two-thirds of the public support full legalization, even half of American Republicans are also ready to end this chapter of the failed war on drugs. We welcome this action and hope it is the first of several noncontroversial critical steps to promote justice, equity and rational policy.”

Ron Wyden

Wyden leads the Senate Finance Committee. He said his bill — co-sponsored by New Jersey’s Cory Booker and New York’s Chuck Schumer, the majority leader — is ready for a Senate vote:

“Today is a huge step forward in the fight to restore lives destroyed by the criminalization of cannabis. I echo President Biden’s call for states to do the same and repair harms done by the failed War on Drugs by pardoning all nonviolent cannabis convictions. A review by the Department of Health and Human Services of how cannabis is scheduled is welcome, but those of us who have been advocating for reform, we already know that a comprehensive federal solution is needed.

“Legal protections for victims of the War on Drugs should be codified in law, cannabis should be descheduled and a federal regulatory system should be put in place to protect public health and safety. Leader Schumer, Senator Booker and I have the bill to get it done. I look forward to working with President Biden to build on today’s movement and advance common-sense cannabis reform.”

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