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Latino legislators reject US Dept. of Justice cannabis directive

The new policy is contrary to scientific evidence, the democratic wishes of voters in 29 states plus the District of Columbia, and will disproportionately affect Latinos and other minorities, the NHCSL said.

The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators rejected a memorandum by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoking Obama Administration policy that directed U.S. attorneys not to focus scarce law enforcement resources in prosecuting low-level cannabis offenders in states where it has become legal for either medical or recreational use.

The new policy is contrary to scientific evidence, the democratic wishes of voters in 29 states plus the District of Columbia, and will disproportionately affect Latinos and other minorities, the NHCSL said.

Last Summer, NHCSL’s executive committee approved a resolution calling for the decriminalization of cannabis, becoming the first national Hispanic organization to take a bold stance on the issue.

The resolution also recalled the anti-Latino bias at the root of cannabis prohibition laws.

“Attorney General Sessions’ recent cannabis directive is contrary to science as well as President Trump’s own campaign promises to let states regulate the use of marijuana,” NHCSL President and Pennsylvania State Representative Ángel Cruz said.

“Sessions is ignoring overwhelming research that demonstrates that marijuana not only has a plethora of medical uses, but is also not as harmful as the former Alabama Senator claims,” he said.

“Sessions also seems to be ignoring the chronic abuses that cannabis criminalization has historically inflicted on Latinos and other minorities,” Cruz said.

“NHCSL is proud to have been the first national Hispanic group to call for the decriminalization of cannabis and we will not stand idly by while the Department of Justice undermines the rule of law in 29 states and Washington, DC.,” Cruz added.

“Our preciously scarce police resources should focus on pursuing actual criminals that are harming others, not law-abiding patients and other legal cannabis users,” Cruz said.

According to the text of NHCSL’s cannabis resolution, “during the 1920’s and 1930’s, when it was first penalized in various states, cannabis use was portrayed as a cultural vice of Mexican immigrants to the United States, and racist and xenophobic politicians and government officials used cannabis prohibition specifically to target and criminalize Mexican-American culture and incarcerate Mexican-Americans and, therefore, the prohibition of cannabis is fundamentally rooted in discrimination against Hispanics…”

Sessions issued a memorandum last week invalidating the so-called “Cole Memo” issued in 2013 under the Obama administration, which opened the doors to medical cannabis in the states and territories as independent jurisdictions. As this media outlet reported, the decision could be detrimental to Puerto Rico’s budding medical cannabis industry and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló warned the island’s government will join any legal actions that arise to defeat it.

Colorado State Representative Dan Pabón, the sponsor of the resolution, and who is also the Chair of NHCSL’s Task Force on Banking, Affordable Housing and Credit, said: “Colorado has successfully decriminalized cannabis. The health, economic, and public safety benefits have been a boon to our states and other jurisdictions who have followed our lead.”

“In addition to the $300 million a year our state has been able to collect from the legal cannabis trade, decriminalization also strikes at the heart of the black market and the vicious crimes that stem from cannabis prohibition in other states. Now is not the time to turn back the clock on states’ rights and common-sense policy,” he said.

“Congress should follow Colorado’s example and fully decriminalize the use and sale of cannabis and help other Americans reap the rewards of the type of sound and evidence-based cannabis policies we have pursued in Colorado,” Pabón said.

“Theoretically, under the Constitution, Congress has the power to regulate or even ban marijuana from interstate commerce. But it cannot and should not reverse state policy to regulate or prohibit the growing, processing and use of marijuana within state lines. This should be for the citizens of each state to decide,” said NHCSL Executive Director, Kenneth Romero.

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