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Weldon Angelos: U.S. cannabis reform is inevitable — and bipartisan

Polls show overwhelming support for the idea that cannabis should not be a crime.

Thomas Burr | The Salt Lake Tribune Weldon Angelos, a Utahn recently released from prison who has become the poster child for criminal justice reform, meets with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on Wednesday in Washington while television crews capture the moment.

This Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer along with Sens. Cory Booker and Ron Wyden, introduced a discussion draft of legislation to completely end cannabis prohibition in the United States.

America is sandwiched between two legal cannabis nations. In polling and at the polls, legalization consistently performs better than either parties’ candidates or proposals. This means one thing: Cannabis prohibition in the United States is over. The only remaining question is how and when the federal government will end it.

Indeed, last year, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic majority set exactly that tone with the “landmark” passage of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2020. Attorney General Merrick Garland agrees with his predecessor on at least one Justice Department policy: refraining from using “limited resources” of the department’s prosecution budget to pursue state-licensed cannabis activity.

No indicator shows that the momentum for legalization is slowing or stopping; prohibition is increasingly unpopular and viewed as a backwards, vestigial policy from the 1930s. The one thing a supermajority of Americans can agree upon — nearly 70% according to Gallup — is that cannabis prohibition is foolish and manifestly unjust. A paltry 8% of respondents would maintain it.

The harms — and disparate impact — of prohibition are real to the millions of individuals and families, particularly in communities of color, burdened by the government’s failed War on Drugs. I was sentenced to a mandatory 55 years and was incarcerated for 13 years for non-violent marijuana charges —l osing years of my life — all for a small amount of flower. Fortunately, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, recognized the injustice of my sentence and urged President Obama to grant clemency in 2016. Last December, President Trump granted my request for a full pardon. An example of bipartisan agreement on this issue.

My experience is not unique. But most Americans don’t have access to powerful and well-connected individuals to place their case before the president and to petition for the mercy the office can bestow, rendering freedom in too many cases, too far away.

The time has come for leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties to come together and realize a common goal of descheduling cannabis (ending its criminalization), regulating it and ensuring those affected most by unjust laws and enforcement have meaningful second chances in society.

As the country emerges from the ravages of an economic recession caused by a deadly pandemic and social strife over the criminal justice system, it is time for a smarter, more popular criminal justice policy that also spurs economic growth and activity when Americans need it most.

It is imperative that this Congress take up the issue of ending cannabis prohibition, ensuring second chances for those wrongly imprisoned, and regulating cannabis in a manner that allows all Americans — consumers and entrepreneurs — access to a vibrant and competitive industry. The time to take this momentum across party and ideological lines is now. Morally and economically, the country is ready for cannabis prohibition to end.

Weldon Angelos

Weldon Angelos runs The Weldon Project/Mission Green, a not-for-profit organization focused on clemency for those incarcerated for cannabis and is a co-coordinator of the Cannabis Freedom Alliance. He is a music producer who has worked with icons such as Snoop Dogg and Tory Lanez and was sentenced in a high-profile cannabis case involving mandatory minimum sentences. He served 13 years in federal prison before being released in 2016 and fully pardoned by the president in December 2020.

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