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US VP Harris gathers Fat Joe and people pardoned for marijuana convictions to discuss reforms By Reuters

Mar 13, 2024

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris looks on from inside the House Chamber, ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s State of The Union Address on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 7, 2024. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File photo

By Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday plans to gather rapper Fat Joe and several people pardoned by the Biden administration for marijuana-related convictions for a White House public discussion about criminal justice reform.

The meeting comes as Harris, a Democrat, is tasked with convincing people of color and young voters to give President Joe Biden and her a second, four-year term amid fears that voters dissatisfied with sluggish policy reforms may sit out November’s election.

The United States jails more people than any other country. Some 1 in 5 of those 1.9 million people are behind bars for a drug-related offense.

Black and Latino people are disproportionately incarcerated, while drug law reform has the broadest support among young voters. Each constituency favors Democrats.

Biden, who has sometimes disappointed activists with conservative views about narcotics use, has nonetheless proposed easing the treatment of the psychoactive plant under federal law and has pardoned thousands of convictions for mere possession of the drug.

He mentioned both positions during his State of the Union speech last week, marking the first time a president used the congressional address to tout easing marijuana policy.

Some activists favor full legalization of the drug, and they have faulted the administration for dismissing some employees for past drug use.

Biden said racial equity would be one of his administration’s top priorities and was elected in the aftermath of widespread street protests over the 2020 murder of George Floyd, who was Black, by a Minneapolis police officer.

He has backed a menu of reforms but distanced himself from efforts to sharply cut criminal penalties. Voter concerns about crime often figure into U.S. campaign season attack ads.

The president has pursued executive actions including banning most choke-holds and restricting no-knock warrants for federal law enforcement but more sweeping reforms have been sidelined or stalled in Congress, disappointing liberal voters.

Joining Harris’ conversation on Friday is rapper Fat Joe, a five-time Grammy nominee and proponent of criminal justice reform, a White House official said on Wednesday.

The Department of Health and Human Services last year recommended that cannabis be reclassified from its current treatment as a “Schedule I” drug alongside heroin as having no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse.

They recommended it be treated, like testosterone and codeine cough syrup, as a Schedule III drug with a moderate potential for causing addiction.

The decision, which now rests with the Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration, would improve the tax treatment of marijuana businesses and allow more medical research.

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