Recently a number of prominent progressives – including every member of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ so-called Squad – unveiled a progressive housing blueprint that has a small, though potentially earthmoving, cannabis provision in it.
As the Senate impeachment trial raged on and drowned out a lot of policy news, seven progressives quietly dropped the People’s Housing Platform which recommends lawmakers ban landlords from discriminating against people with criminal records, especially those convicted of non-violent drug offenses.
While this is just a sliver of the overall push to legalize or decriminalize cannabis, proponents say it’s meaningful.
“It’s incredibly important because I think that when we talk about reversing the war on drugs, a lot of it is focused directly on the criminal justice system,” Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told Wikileaf. “But we don’t focus on the pipelines, whether it’s a school to prison pipeline, or whether it’s all of these kind of like spider veins that have gone into our housing system, our health care system, etc. that put people on a track to incarceration, deportation, etc.”
The broader, 28-page blistering report highlights the nation’s often racist housing policies – from how white settlers kicked Native Americans off their land, to how policies like ‘redlining’ segregated African Americans from their white counterparts – and calls for constructing more public housing, among other things.
But one section calls explicitly on Congress to update housing policy to get the federal government up to speed with the more than half the states that have legalized either medicinal or recreational marijuana.
“Congress should ban ‘first-strike’ policies that allow for tenant eviction for a single incident of criminal activity and ban ‘no-fault’ policies where entire families can be evicted if one family member commits a crime without their knowledge,” reads the report compiled by the chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s office.
That provision may seem like a small ask, but to the proposal’s backers, it would represent the broader sea change being witnessed when it comes to marijuana.
“So when we start updating our housing laws, and either decriminalizing or removing the stigma of cannabis, from our housing laws, then we’ll be able to better integrate and transition not just away from the war on drugs, but also to a more just housing system,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
For progressives, it’s all about trying to codify most American’s new attitudes towards cannabis, which they say will ripple beyond housing.
“The criminalization of poverty really is a big part of what has led to mass incarceration in this country,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) told Wikileaf. “We know that there’s a linkage between being housing insecurity and our criminal justice system, and so I think it is really important for us to make sure that we don’t have policies that criminalize people.”
While, at least with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, the document is more aspirational than anything else, supporters argue just highlighting the disconnect between federal policy and state policies is vital.
“As we think about some of these drug policies, it is important that we get rid of policies that are not effective and oftentimes counterproductive to what we’re trying to do in trying to create a better society,” Omar said.
The proposal is also signed onto by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.).
Garcia’s state of Illinois is the nation’s latest to unveil its own recreational marijuana program, which has witnessed lines roping around blocks and dispensaries selling out of their product, because the demand has been so high for a product that is the very reason tens of thousands of residents remain incarcerated.
So while the ultimate goal is to free those prisoners, these marijuana advocates argue the change needs to start in small ways in order for them to show opponents that it’s now a new day in America, at least when it comes to cannabis.
“I’m hoping that there will be a significant just paradigm shift in how people think about these things,” Garcia told Wikileaf. “Sometimes just taking a baby step…people can say, wow, you know, that wasn’t that bad. So maybe people you know, gain new perspective from it, and are ready to consider other things.”
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