The bipartisan pair of congressmen that brought sweeping justice reforms to the United States last year are now pushing to end cannabis prohibition in America.
At the end of 2018, President Trump signed the First Step Act into law—a bill that reduces minimum sentencing guidelines for federal drug crimes and will see thousands of convicts released from prison. Now, the bipartisan duo behind the act are working on what they're tentatively calling the Next Step Act. The new bill from Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Douglas A. Collins (R-GA) would expunge the criminal records of those convicted of drug crimes before minimum sentencing requirements were reduced. On top of that, the new bill would also restore their eligibility to apply for certain jobs.
"What is being contemplated is removing the stain that has been put on their life's journey as a result of a nonviolent drug offense, often occurring at a very adolescent stage of their life," Rep. Jeffries told The Washington Post.
While the duo's previous bill was certainly a welcome change to outdated federal drug policy it was, as the name suggests, only a first step. Even after being released from prison, ex-convicts often have extreme difficulties getting jobs and housing because of their criminal records. Expunging their records would help them re-enter the workforce and regain their independence.
But Collins and Jeffries aren't stopping there. Although the Next Step Act hasn't been passed yet, they're already discussing its followup: a bill to reform marijuana law at the federal level.
"There's a growing number of conservatives, libertarians and Republicans who are in agreement with Democrats, who believe that we should at least take a hard look at descheduling marijuana," Jeffries said. Right now, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug in the Controlled Substances Act, which means the feds define cannabis as a substance that has no medical use and is as dangerous as heroin. That classification not only bans Americans from using cannabis for medicinal or recreational purposes, but it also makes it extremely difficult for researchers to study marijuana's potential health risks and benefits because they have to jump through a gauntlet of hoops before they can examine the plant.
Descheduling cannabis would essentially end federal cannabis prohibition by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. That means individual states would be allowed to set their own cannabis laws, and marijuana could finally be acknowledged as medicine by the FDA. The move would be a watershed moment for American drug policy, but Jeffries doesn't think it's a radical idea.
"Descheduling marijuana at the federal level shouldn't actually be that controversial, and it's consistent with Republican principles of states' rights and federalism," he said.
Collins and Jefferies may have a fight ahead of them with the push for cannabis decriminalization. The House Rules Committee—previously the place where marijuana legislation went to die—now has a much more marijuana-friendly leader, but William Barr—Trump's pick for attorney general—has stated that he opposes cannabis legalization. So federal marijuana prohibition probably won't go away without a fight.