Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) voiced her support for marijuana legalization at the federal level to ensure that individual states can no longer enforce prohibition to the detriment of communities of color, while other states make a handsome profit.
Speaking with BET, the freshman congresswoman said “it’s important for us to [legalize cannabis] federally and not allow for the states to pick and choose, because what happens is you will have a state where someone is publicly and professionally able to profit, and in the next state someone could be sentenced to life for it.”
“We want to make sure that there is equality in our laws,” she said. “I don’t think it’s just for that kind of economy that exists within this policy [of conflicting state marijuana laws].”
Omar is a cosponsor of a bill to deschedule marijuana at the federal level, which was introduced to Congress in February. The Marijuana Justice Act also seeks to penalize states that enforce prohibition in a discriminatory way.
She is also cosponsor of a separate bill that would mandate the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to research the therapeutic potential of marijuana for veterans, something the agency has been hesitant to move forward with.
Omar also pointed to the need for broader discussions beyond cannabis legalization focused on helping those harmed by the War on Drugs.
“How do you allow the people who have been the most impacted by these harmful policies to now sort of get reparations and be the ones that are set up to benefit from the system now working?” she said. “I think these are parallel conversations.”
“These are holistic conversations for us to have,” she said, acknowledging Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) as examples of lawmakers seeking to promote broader criminal justice reform alongside social justice agendas.
Legalization in itself will not ensure equity in the marijuana industry, so she argues for a movement that “will center black and brown people in getting opportunities to start the businesses that will be generated after we legalize.”
“You have to have the capital to be able to start the business, to understand where to even begin,” she said. “But also many licenses for businesses are tied to your criminal record. And so there are a lot of things we have to make sure we’re taking care of so that we are setting the black and brown community to be in equal footing when that happens.”