Merkley cosponsors bill to end federal marijuana prohibition

SALEM, Ore.– On Wednesday, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., announced his cosponsorship of a bill that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana.

The bill, Marijuana Justice Act, penned by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., would focus on two major issues related to the current federal system on marijuana. First, it would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances – making it legal at the federal level. This would incentivise states to change their federal laws on marijuana and help to lower the rates of arrests and incarceration  of non-violent crimes.

This bill is meant to mainly address the amount of low-income and people of color who have as Merkley’s press release says have been “disproportionately” effected current federal marijuana laws.

“This creates significant problems, not only with the prosecution of nonviolent cannabis crimes — which disproportionately hurts people of color — but also with lack of banking services for legally operating businesses,” said Merkley.

This would lead to the second portion of the bill which would allow banking services to open their doors to marijuana businesses, in order to provide a secure environment for their current all-cash enterprises. Merkley said it would also make the marijuana businesses more accountable and leave cannabis legalization up to the states “where it should be.”

Businesses in the Rogue Valley NBC5 News spoke with are happy to see the government progressing towards an end to prohibition.

Andrew Robison, a general manager for Talent Health Club and host of Local Smoke Radio Show, said that businesses, especially in Southern Oregon, will benefit from this. But he said they should be wary as well.

The cottage industry that has held up marijuana since it was made legal for medical purposes and then recreationally in some states, must watch out for big business he says.

“Banks are allowed to work with us and larger corporate interests are allowed to step their toes into the cannabis industry,” said Robison. “There’s going to be a fight to really maintain the cottage industry.”

He says big business is good to help expand an industry but like alcohol, he hopes the craft side of marijuana will still be able to exist once it becomes legal federally.

Back on Capitol Hill, Sen. Booker said he was excited Merkley is joining as a cosponsor.

“I’m thrilled that Sen. Merkley is joining our effort to make our criminal justice system more consistent with the words inscribed above our Supreme Court – equal justice under the law,” said Booker. “The War on Drugs has been a war on people – and most often people of color and low-income individuals.”

Merkley is the fifth senator to cosponsor the bill along with Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Bernie Sanders I-Vt. The House of Representatives has a companion measure which was introduced earlier this year by Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. and Ro Khanna, D-Calif. That measure has 35 cosponsors.

The bill will have a hearing and a vote in the Senate judiciary committee before any further action is taken.

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