Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ed Markey (D-MA) are calling for marijuana reform that prioritizes communities most impacted by the drug war and prevents monopolization by large corporations like Amazon and big tobacco firms.
At an event focused on creating an equitable cannabis industry on Saturday, the senators thanked activists for holding the line for small and minority marijuana businesses, and they pledged to promote legislation that aligns with that goal.
“We know that legalization alone is not enough,” Warren said in a prerecorded video played at the event. “We need to ensure that the communities most harmed by the war on drugs are at the front of the line for reaping the benefits of legalization and we need to legalize in a way that avoids Big Tobacco and alcohol corporations or retail giants from dominating the cannabis market.”
“Because if it is left to its own devices, the industry is gonna head in that direction. We’re already seeing some of those companies like Amazon lobbying for cannabis legalization,” the senator said, adding that she’s “deeply skeptical that Amazon’s lobbying is anything more than a self-interested move to monopolize yet another market, potentially blocking Black and Latino entrepreneurs from an emerging industry.”
“Now is the time to get creative and think big about how we can ensure fairness and competition in the cannabis industry,” she said. “I am proud to be in this fight with all of you.”
The senator’s comments aligned with the main theme of the cannabis policy “crash course,” which was organized by the Parabola Center for Law and Policy, a think tank working to educate people about the potential ramifications of consolidated ownership in the marijuana sector.
(Disclosure: Parabola founder Shaleen Title supports Marijuana Moment’s work via a monthly Patreon pledge.)
“Right now, we have the rare opportunity to shape how a new industry develops from the ground up,” Warren said. “And that means we have the chance to avoid repeating the same old story of corporations crowding out small businesses and dominating markets.”
Markey also addressed attendees in a prerecorded video, saying that “we know all too well that the war on drugs was a failure.” He added that the same communities that have been disproportionately criminalized under prohibition “stood up and fought for a different future.”
“It is because of their leadership that we are seeing a significant change to cannabis law all across the United States,” he said, noting President Joe Biden’s mass marijuana pardon last year and efforts in Massachusetts to ensure that its legal cannabis market puts equity first.
“But our work is only just beginning,” he said. “A patchwork of local and state laws creates confusion and barriers that big business exploits to make big bucks at the expense of communities already decimated by the war on drugs. Congress must legalize cannabis and prioritize equity.”
“In developing cannabis policy, Congress must give a voice to the communities harmed by the war on drugs. Nothing about them without them,” he said. “We’re in a new era of federal cannabis policy. But that doesn’t erase the harmful effects of decades of criminalization.”
“I’m ready to work together to create a new system—a system that emphasizes inclusion, that emphasizes empowerment, that emphasizes equity,” he added. “Let’s all work together to achieve those goals.”
The Federal Cannabis Policy Crash Course also featured cannabis regulators from Massachusetts, New York City and Washington, D.C., as well as representatives of major marijuana advocacy groups like the Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Justice, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
Ahead of the crash course, Parabola released an “anti-monopoly toolkit” that provides an overview of state and federal policy priorities to prevent corporate consolidation that could threaten small cannabis businesses in the industry.
In 2021, Parabola proposed changes to a House-passed federal marijuana legalization bill that sought to ensure that the market is equitable and empowers communities that have been most impacted by prohibition to benefit from the new industry.
Late last year, the center also sounded the alarm about the influence of the tobacco and alcohol industries in shaping federal cannabis reform and encouraging lawmakers to rethink the idea of modeling legal marijuana regulations after those that are in place for booze.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in April that he plans to reintroduce a comprehensive cannabis legalization bill, but its prospects of passage in a divided Congress, with Republicans in control of the House, are in question.
Instead, advocates are closely following to see what kind of incremental reform might be achievable this session, with a bipartisan cannabis banking bill expected to receive a Senate committee hearing in the near future, for example.
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.