TRENTON – Six senators, including U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., are stepping up their push to get President Joe Biden to reclassify cannabis and pardon people with convictions for nonviolent offenses related to the drug.

Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug by the federal government, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. That groups it with heroin, LSD and ecstasy, among other examples.

In their letter sent Wednesday, Booker and his colleagues say the Biden administration has the authority to start the process to deschedule cannabis and called its response in April to their similar request made last October “extraordinarily disappointing.”

“The administration’s failure to coordinate a timely review of its cannabis policy is harming thousands of Americans, slowing research, and depriving Americans of their ability to use marijuana for medical or other purposes,” the senators wrote. “We ask that the Biden administration act quickly to rectify this decade-long injustice harming individuals, especially Black and Brown communities.”

The Justice Department said the Department of Health and Human Services had determined “that cannabis has not been proven in scientific studies to be a safe and effective treatment for any disease or condition” – though might in the future, so it strongly supports marijuana research.

“Put simply, the DOJ need not wait on any HHS determination to begin this process,” the senators wrote in their new letter. “Moreover, it is obvious that cannabis has widely accepted medical benefits, affirmed by medical and scientific communities both here and across the globe.”

Legal in NJ for 12 years

Thirty-seven states have legalized medical marijuana, including New Jersey in 2010. Legal sales of recreational cannabis to adults began in New Jersey in April of this year.

“In communities where cannabis has been legalized, there have been widespread economic, racial-justice, public safety, and health benefits,” the senators wrote.

They also noted that as a candidate in 2020, Biden committed to decriminalize the use of cannabis and expunge all prior cannabis use convictions. He also acknowledged the importance of removing cannabis from its classification as a Schedule I substance, they said.

The senators said it is estimated that over 40,000 people are incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses and that recent pardons of commutations of nine people with such convictions, among 78 Biden issued in total, are commendable but insufficient.

“Much more has to be done to address the racist and harmful legacy of cannabis policies on Black and Brown communities,” they wrote. “The legacy of the war on drugs is pervasive.”

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The letter was also signed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Ed Markey of Massachusetts. All of them are Democrats except Sanders, an independent who caucuses with that party.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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