The Drug Policy Alliance’s priorities include justice reform, research and education, and equity
By Jason LangendorfApril 20, 2021
In an effort to appeal to lawmakers at a timely and symbolic moment during discussions about U.S. federal marijuana regulation, a working group of advocates and experts formed by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) released a comprehensive series of marijuana policy reform recommendations on Tuesday.
The Principles for Federal Cannabis Regulations & Reform, authored by the DPA-assembled Federal Cannabis Regulations Working Group, was created to guide policymakers as Congress appears set to shift its focus from marijuana criminalization to regulation.
Past policy has often served to stigmatize marijuana users, target and harm communities of color and disproportionately impact marginalized communities, among other consequences.”
That the recommendations were released on April 20—otherwise known as 420, 4:20 or 4/20 and considered an unofficial marijuana “holiday” by many—and ahead of Congress’ next session is no coincidence. The group’s announcement, “outlining what a federal regulatory framework—grounded in justice and social equity—should look like,” was transparently framed as an effort to build on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last December in the initial steps toward federal marijuana reform.
“As we get closer to federal marijuana legalization being a reality in the United States, it’s more urgent than ever before to create a regulatory framework that both comprehensively addresses the harms of prohibition and ensures just and equitable future outcomes,” said Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for the DPA’s Office of National Affairs. “We have already seen the way industry is jockeying for the opportunity to regulate themselves, and it is critical that advocates—who are representing the interest of those who have been most impacted by prohibition, and those who are in the best position to prevent future harms—set the agenda for how federal cannabis regulation should work.”
The Cannabis Regulation Principles
The Federal Cannabis Regulations Working Group identifies 15 core concepts in its Principles for Federal Cannabis Regulations & Reform that it says should guide any new legislation. Past policy has often served to stigmatize marijuana users, target and harm communities of color and disproportionately impact marginalized communities, among other consequences. The principles outlined by the DPA’s working group are designed to help address:
- Racial justice
- Medical cannabis
- Public health and education
- Justice reform and elimination of lifelong consequences
- Just and equitable ownership
- Non-commercial activity/home cultivation
- Research and education
- State programs
- United Nations treaties
In Tuesday’s release, the working group said it continues to meet and formulate further recommendations that it intends to present to Congress—particularly senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who spearheaded the MORE Act and are expected to take on regulation, perhaps as soon as next session.
Building on the MORE Act
The groundbreaking MORE Act, which is now in the hands of the U.S. Senate, would remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate criminal penalties associated with the drug’s manufacture, distribution and possession. The DPA acknowledged the bill proposal as progress, but the organization wasn’t satisfied with the final results.
When decision makers agree with voters on the goals for cannabis policy—such as preventing Big Tobacco from taking over the cannabis industry—that’s only step one.”—Shaleen Title, Ohio State University Moritz College of Law
The legislation failed to address regulation, while also including language that barred people with marijuana convictions from participating in the industry at a federal level and limiting resentencing and expungement relief to nonviolent marijuana offenses. The DPA’s Federal Cannabis Regulations Working Group released its Principles for Federal Cannabis Regulations & Reform in an effort to help “close that loop, and to prevent unintended and problematic language from getting added to the bill.”
In addition to reversing discriminatory punitive marijuana policy, the working group aims to ensure that the populations and communities it has harmed most are given a fair shake at benefiting from legalization.
“When decision-makers agree with voters on the goals for cannabis policy—such as preventing Big Tobacco from taking over the cannabis industry—that’s only step one,” says Shaleen Title, distinguished cannabis policy practitioner in residence at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and former Massachusetts cannabis control commissioner. “In my experience as a regulator, the goal of protecting and encouraging small businesses proved especially difficult to implement partly because those businesses don’t have an army of lobbyists, lawyers and other paid representatives offering to develop technical policies on their behalf.”
Photo: Joshua Coleman