New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D) recently introduced the best cannabis bill ever seen on Capitol Hill — The Marijuana Justice Act of 2017, which covers a plethora of cannabis issues, from federal scheduling to the disproportionate arrest rates people of color face under current policies.
If passed, the Marijuana Justice Act would remove cannabis from the list of scheduled substances, the magnitude of which is can’t possibly be overstated; it would make cannabis legal at the federal level. States would be encouraged (with federal funding) to make their policies match the new law of the land.
The bill would also withhold certain federal funding from states that continue to see racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates, making a reduction in racial profiling a dollars and cents issue for cash-strapped state legislatures. Additionally, those states that choose not to change their ways will be open to civil proceedings by those who feel they’ve been arrested due to discriminatory practices. The money withheld from states with unfairly enforced marijuana laws would then go to fund various programs including libraries, job training and health education programs.
And for the millions who have already fallen victim to the War on Drugs, the bill would mandate the courts to expunge convictions. People who may have been held back in the workforce (or somewhere else) over an association with cannabis will get the clean slate they deserve: The bill would include measures to fund the reentry of folks being released from prison and the costs of expunging people’s records.
Booker went on Facebook Live to discuss what he called a very important bill. He said we believe ourselves to be a nation of liberty and justice for all, but said we fall short of that ideal when it comes to our criminal justice system.
“[This bill] creates a community reinvestment fund,” Booker said. “So communities that have been disproportionately affected by marijuana laws, have been devastated by marijuana laws and their unjust application, they can apply for reinvestment funds that would help with a number of things.”
The first question the Facebook audience asked Booker is if he has any co-sponsors — he doesn’t, and the senator urged everyone outside of his district to call their own senator to support the bill.
Longtime cannabis activists like attorney Shaleen Title — a founding board member of the Minority Cannabis Business Association and founder of THC Staffing Group — are glad to see this major move by one of the Democratic Party’s shining lights during these dark political times.
“Ending federal marijuana prohibition would bring the law in line with the opinion of the growing majority of Americans who want states to be able to enact their own marijuana laws without harassment by the DEA,” Title said. “By divesting in prisons and reinvesting in job training and re-entry programs, this bill would move our country forward and prioritize building up our communities.”
Top congressional pot analyst Tom Angell, who founded and serves as chairman of Marijuana Majority, released a statement following the bill’s announcement:
“This is the single most far-reaching marijuana bill that’s ever been filed in either chamber of Congress. More than just getting the federal government out of the way so that states can legalize without DEA harassment, this new proposal goes even further by actually punishing states that have bad marijuana laws… this is something that more senators should be signing on to right away.”
Booker’s bill is part and parcel of the long term effort put in by the Drug Policy Alliance — a leading progressive cannabis policy lobby in D.C, which has been a part of numerous successful efforts at the state level to change marijuana laws, including Proposition 64 in California.
The DPA and other organizations, such as NORML and The Marijuana Policy Project, are part of a broad push to make Congress realize Americans no longer want cannabis prohibition.
Queen Adesuyi, policy associate at the DPA, said decriminalization is only a matter of time now.
“The question is no longer ‘should we legalize marijuana?’ It is ‘how do we legalize marijuana?’ We must do so in a way that recognizes that the people who suffered most under prohibition are the same people who should benefit most under legalization,” Adesuyi said. “From disparate marijuana-related arrests and incarceration rates to deportations and justifications for police brutality, the War on Drugs has had disparate harm on low-income communities and communities of color — it’s time to rectify that.”
Activists at the state level are also thrilled to see Booker leading the charge, following the state’s long time pot troubles under the outgoing Governor Chris Christie. The fact that the bill has a mechanism to ease aggressive enforcement on communities of color is also huge.
“In New Jersey, marijuana prohibition has disproportionately harmed communities of color,” Scotti said. “In our state, African Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites even though both use marijuana at similar rates. Anecdotal evidence suggests similar disparities for Latinos. Marijuana legalization on the federal and state level must be fair and equitable and must repair past harms to communities of color. It is time to right the wrongs of prohibition.”
New Jersey NORML Executive Director, Evan Nison, also commended on the move by Booker.
“Senator Booker is representing our citizens far better than the current Governor and helping make New Jersey a leader on important issues like this,” Nison said. “It’s great to see this kind of leadership, and I believe is a big part of why he is so popular. He’s willing to do the right thing and fight against harmful policies that are hurting society and his constituents.”
NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri echoed the sentiment of the New Jersey chapter.
“Not only is it imperative we end our failed experiment of marijuana prohibition, we must also ensure justice for those who suffered most under these draconian policies,” Altieri said. “We applaud Senator Booker for introducing this robust legislation that would not only remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, but provide a path forward for the individuals and communities that were most disproportionately targeted by our nation’s failed war on marijuana consumers.”
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