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Cannabis activist says convictions equal modern-day ‘scarlet letter’ in Senate hearing to decriminalize marijuana

Cannabis activist Weldon Angelos said he was still unable to work in a legal cannabis business and was having trouble finding an apartment due to his federal marijuana conviction.

Angelos told U.S. senators during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday that the cannabis convictions amounted to a modern-day “scarlet letter,” though he ultimately won a presidential pardon.

“The lack of eradication hinders meaningful participation in society,” Angelos said during a Senate hearing on “Federal Decriminalization of Cannabis: Steps Needed to Address Past Harm.” The hearing was organized by the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism, which is part of the Judiciary Committee.

Angelos and other speakers at the hearing expressed both support and opposition to the Cannabis Management and Opportunity Act introduced last week. While the measure is not expected to be passed by the Senate, it includes language to remove records of marijuana convictions in an attempt to reverse the negative effects of decades of cannabis prohibition.

See: Chuck Schumer Leads Massive Senate Bill To Remove Cannabis From The Federal List Of Controlled Substances.

Angelos shared one of the most personal stories from the hearing, which involved law enforcement officials, as well as supporters and opponents of cannabis legalization. Along with CAOA, Congress also considered SAFE Banking measures and other cannabis bills.

Angelos was sentenced to 55 years in prison for selling $300 worth of marijuana due to a mandatory weapon upgrade that was instigated in his case. He was released in 2016 after 13 years in prison and pardoned by President Trump in 2020.

Angelos said he barely walked into the White House to visit President Joe Biden to talk about cannabis leniency due to his condemnation of cannabis, even though he had been there before.

Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois), committee chairman, said Angelos is more than a witness, he is a “legend” for his work promoting the First Step Act, which helped free federal prisoners.

Angelos, a former associate of Snoop Dog, has since founded an organization called The Weldon Project to promote social change and provide financial assistance to thousands of people in prison for cannabis-related crimes.

Edward Jackson, chief of the Annapolis, Maryland Police Department, said he took too long to arrest people for cannabis, even though the real reason he became an officer was to help the community and fight violence.

“Prohibition fuels violence, but cannabis does not,” Jackson said. Nowadays, cannabis convictions often cause people to stay in the drug trade because they can’t find a job because of their criminal record.

Dr. Malik Burnett, medical director of the Harm Reduction Center at the Maryland Department of Health, said cannabis use among teens has remained stable despite legalization in the state.

The legal cannabis trade has been a boon for most white-run businesses, he said, while people of color continue to be arrested more frequently for illegal marijuana activities, he said.

Disagreeing with the CAOA, Stephen H. Cook, former Assistant Deputy Attorney and former President of the National Association of US Attorneys’ Assistants, said that individuals caught federal drug smuggling should be held accountable, regardless of race or gender. According to him, legalization in California strengthens drug cartels because it is easier for them to organize illegal growing operations in the state than to smuggle cannabis across the border.

Alex Berenson, author of Tell Your Kids: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Abuse, says early cannabis use can increase a child’s risk of developing schizophrenia or another mental illness. Cannabis products have become much more potent today, he says, and the industry continues to resist dialogue over data showing harmful health effects from cannabis and THC use.

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) said the federal cannabis ban has failed and hurt communities of color. While medical cannabis is legal in 38 states and the District of Columbia, the federal government “still doesn’t keep up with the majority of our citizens,” Booker said.

Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) said CAOA is not about medical research or medicine, but about the legalization and commercialization of cannabis. It would make marijuana “much more accessible,” he said, and would also erase records of drug dealers and gang members, “a huge gift to the cartels.”

ALSO READ: Republican in South Carolina seeks to legalize cannabis, but skeptics aren’t convinced

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