Today, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) and about a dozen co-sponsors introduced the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 to the U.S. House of Representatives, pushing forward the companion House bill to the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 that was already introduced into the Senate last August by rising Democratic star New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.
This afternoon, Rep. Lee discussed her bill on a call that included Sen. Booker and another member of California’s delegation to Congress, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA). Given that Rep. Lee and Rep. Kanna represent Oakland and San Jose, respectively, their districts are home to numerous state-licensed cannabis facilities, including some the nation’s oldest and largest.
While Rep. Khanna is a freshman congressman, Rep. Lee has a long and storied career in the House’s progressive wing. She is a member of the Budget and Appropriations Committee and vice chair of the Steering and Policy Committee, she also has served in the past as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“This legislation will end the destructive War on Drugs, and we intend to do that,” said Rep. Lee. “Believe it or not, here on the first day we have 12 cosponsors, which is really remarkable.”
According to Rep. Lee, the bill will not only look at mass incarceration but the disinvestment that’s taken place in communities of color. In her eyes, the bill goes much further than legalization and is an essential step in correcting injustices like the arrest and incarceration rates faced by communities of color.
“It also forces states with records of racial bias in sentencing and arrests, and there are many, to clean up their act finally by cutting funds to law enforcement and prison construction for the worst offenders,” said Rep. Lee.
Sen. Booker followed Rep. Lee, telling the tale of how he was first introduced to the idea of marijuana policy reform by Ethan Nadelmann, the Drug Policy Alliance’s founder and former executive director, and called Rep. Lee a champion of justice.
Booker went on to note on the enthusiasm for legalization from sea to shining sea.
“To me, it strikes as a hypocrisy and injustice if you legalize but don’t try to undo the damage that was done by this awful War on Drugs,” said Booker, before mentioning those still serving prison sentences or generally being held back in life by a previous conviction.
Then Booker spoke of two Americas: one where all could feel free to speak about marijuana with a cavalier attitude, and the other, like the central ward of Newark, New Jersey — where Booker lives — where you can see the devastation and punishing impact on young people who get caught up in the web of the criminal justice system. “They’re targeted for marijuana enforcement,” said Booker.
Booker hopes the bill can restore at least some sense of justice after the decades of impact on communities targeted for enforcement, much of the time based on the color of their skin. He went on to say the War on Drugs has been one of the greatest assaults on low-income people and people of color since Jim Crow.
The most sweeping change the new bill would oversee is to deschedule cannabis by altering the Controlled Substances Act and various relating amendments. The original purpose of the Controlled Substances Act was to rate drugs on the scale that would show their threat to society. Schedule I, were marijuana still currently resides, is for substances with the most potential for abuse and harm to society, in addition to having no medical value.
After removing cannabis from the world of narcotics, there will still be plenty of clean-up to do helping folks get their lives back together.
To accomplish this, each federal court would be instructed issue an order expunging each conviction for marijuana use or a possession offense entered by the court before the date of enactment of this act.
Therefore, all past low-level federal possession charges will be able to be wiped clean, such as those people who got caught with pot in national parks.
The bill would also create a Community Reinvestment Fund in the U.S. Treasury. The secretary of Housing and Urban Development would have access to the fund to invest in the communities most disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. This would be done via projects like job training, reentry services and even building public libraries.
The new fund would also create a mechanism to punish those states whose marijuana policies are still seen to be hurting long impacted communities. Should the Attorney General determine that a state has a disproportionate arrest rate or a disproportionate incarceration rates for marijuana offenses still, federal funding will be cut to future law enforcement and prison construction projects. It would also remove the state from eligibility to participate in the Community Reinvestment Fund and would put their allotted cash back into the pool.
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