Policing reform may have passed the House on a mostly party-line vote, but the battle isn’t over, especially for pro-cannabis lawmakers who argue the failed ‘war on drugs’ has fueled racial tension in low-income communities across the nation for decades now.
After being rebuffed by congressional leaders who asked that amendments on cannabis not be offered in the midst of the historic policing reform debate at the Capitol, pro-cannabis lawmakers are vowing to redouble their efforts to get federal decriminalization (if not outright legalization, which remains their ultimate goal) passed by the end of this year.
“I’m going to keep pounding on this issue, because it is the right thing to do,” Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) told Wikileaf at the Capitol.
While Correa raised his marijuana decriminalization amendment in the House Judiciary Committee, he ultimately pulled it after party leaders asked that the legislation stay focused merely on items like banning chokeholds and ending qualified immunity (political-speak for allowing officers to do basically whatever they want without fear of punishment).
But with cannabis and drug arrests of minorities across the US drawing condemnation from international bodies (namely, the United Nations), a growing number of officials and advocates are demanding that overhauling drug laws be a part of any policing reform in the future.
The House-passed police overhaul did include one component that could be a game-changer: Ending no-knock drug warrants. After Breonna Taylor was allegedly murdered by Kentucky police, cannabis advocates in Congress made sure the issue took center stage in the policing reform debate, even if they recognize it’s merely a first step in the long march ahead.
Still, drawing national media attention to the practice of no-knock warrants – along with actually passing the legislation out of the House – is seen as a win. In part because even most lawmakers can’t comprehend the practice.
“Guaranteed that when you go and serve a warrant without knocking on the door at midnight, you are going to have a bad outcome, I don’t care where it is,” Correa said. “Because if you knock on my – if you bang down my door, if you smashed my door down, I’m going to react to protect my castle.”
Pro-cannabis proponents on the Hill are flummoxed though, because they can’t comprehend how drug policy reform was left out of policing reform. Even so, they argue they’re still focused on their goal of normalizing federal cannabis laws as soon as they’re able.
“We’re building support and realization that this is a huge area of oppression for young black men – and black women – right now, and there’s no reason for it,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) told Wikileaf. “So more and more people are realizing it and signing…on, and I think it’s just a matter of time before it happens.”
Democratic leaders argue they’re supportive of cannabis reform – and they can actually point to allowing historic votes to overhaul the current federal prohibition on marijuana – they just didn’t see why it should be included in legislation aimed at overhauling policing in America.
“The challenges we face in terms of systemic racism are not just about policing – it’s about 100 other things too. So, you know, this is the beginning,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told Wikileaf.
McGovern chairs the Rules Committee, which runs the House floor on behalf of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That means any amendment Pelosi doesn’t want to see the light of day, dies in darkness; just like Correa’s cannabis amendment.
Still, McGovern says the House policing reform bill was never intended to be all-encompassing. He says it was meant to be targeted.
“We’ve got to get this process started, and I think the important thing is for us to be able to get something done. You know, in the past when faced in the aftermath of tragedies like the murder of George Floyd, you know, we’ve all issued our press releases saying how terrible it is, and sent our thoughts and prayers to the families and we said, we got to deal with systemic racism in this country and then, not a lot has happened. I mean, we’re hoping that this will be different.”
Everyone in Washington knows November’s elections are quickly bearing down, which is why Republicans accuse Democrats of merely playing politics at a time of social unrest.
“They’d rather have the chaos than a solution,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told Wikileaf. “I think the goal for Democrats is to make it a campaign issue that they can somehow manipulate to their advantage.”
Three Republicans ended up supporting the House policing bill, which was crafted by Democrats for Democrats. That’s basically the same count as in the Senate – even if the House and Senate are different chambers, thus ultimately incomparable – where three members of the Democratic caucus sided with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the legislation he backed. The Senate bill merely called for commissions to look into many of the issues at the heart of protestor’s cries for policing reform.
And leaders from both parties, at least publicly, continue to argue policing reform is possible this year. It’s unclear what that will look like for Republicans, though McConnell has reserved the right as party leader to bring his chamber’s failed bill up whenever he wants.
For Democrats it’s another story altogether, especially because they feel the American public is behind them – which they argue is evidenced by the sustained protests stretching from sea to shining sea – and they’re willing to take that debate to the ballot box if necessary. Though they say they’re hoping McConnell relents and agrees to merely let Democrats sit at the negotiating table.
“I think pressure will continue to build,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told Wikileaf. “Mitch [McConnell] has a well-earned reputation for trickery and untrustworthiness, so why would we want to go into that til we have a baseline that we’re comfortable with?”