Although 35 states in the union plus the District of Columbia have either legalized, decriminalized or made cannabis accessible for medicinal purposes, it is still illegal at the federal level. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is seeking to change that by introducing a bill that would decriminalize the possession of cannabis overall.
As Vox reports, the plan Harris is pushing alongside House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) would not only decriminalize possession but would also impose a 5 percent federal tax on the sale of cannabis in states that have legalized it, and that money would then be used “to fund grant programs that help individuals who have been disproportionately penalized for marijuana possession in the past.”
That would include funding job training, legal aid and rehabilitation for individuals who have been convicted of cannabis-related crimes in the past.
The introduction of this bill is the latest development in Harris’s shifting position on marijuana legalization, which she had once opposed as San Francisco district attorney. The scope of her proposal is notable, as is her collaboration with Nadler, who could help the measure get more expansive consideration in the House given his perch on the Judiciary Committee. Much like many other Democratic bills, it faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate.
It’s important to note that Harris’s bill isn’t just focused on federal regulation of marijuana. It’s also dedicated to making sure individuals who’ve previously faced marijuana-related convictions have the infrastructure to reestablish themselves: Given the significantly higher conviction rates that people of color and low-income people have experienced for marijuana possession, Harris’s bill attempts to make sure that they would also share in the gains of the growing marijuana industry, now that legalization efforts have spread. This approach is similar to one taken by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, whose plan would also direct tax revenue to help communities harmed by racist drug laws.
Harris’ bill also focuses on preventing discrimination against individuals who have used or possessed cannabis in the past so that they would still be eligible for programs such as public housing or public assistance, and it would prevent from facing penalties such as deportation in immigration cases.