The Marijuana Justice Act is back. On Feb. 28, the bill’s authors reintroduced the bill, which made headlines last year for its plan to end cannabis prohibition federally and let states choose their own path for regulating the plant.
The previous congressional effort to pass the Marijuana Justice Act was led by Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, along with California Reps. Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna. Last year, the three were able to pull together solid support, with 43 cosponsors in the House and six in the Senate. Roughly 10 percent of Congress was on board last time around between the two houses.
As with its last iteration, the Marijuana Justice Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances List, where it currently sits among the most dangerous substances the U.S. is trying to keep under control and off the streets. Also, the bill would end federal crimes around the possession, cultivation, manufacture, import and export of cannabis and provide a pathway for expungement for people already charged.
The trio of the elected officials took to Facebook Thursday morning to make the announcement on the new bill. Khanna took the lead on the chat, giving his peers credit for leading the fight over the past few years.
“This is an issue about racial justice,” said Khanna. “Because the reality is many folks who come from more privileged backgrounds, if they try marijuana in high school or college their lives aren’t ruined.”
Khanna went on to note that, in less affluent communities, these rules simply don’t apply, especially in communities of color. Khanna said one of his favorite parts of the bill was added by Booker to expunge the records of those weighed down in life by the simplest personal possession offenses.
“What really ticks me off and it gets me really angry is when I hear people talking ‘adult use, adult use, adult use,’ but don’t in the same breath talk about undoing the damage of an unjust system,” said Booker, before noting the disparity in arrest rates was not mirrored by use statistics between white and black people, who smoke and sell pot at the same rates. Black people, however, are four times as likely to be convicted of a pot crime, he said.
The bill pushes for a restorative justice approach to cannabis legalization, in an attempt to create a federal cannabis industry that can lift up the communities that have been pushed down by the War on Drugs. The bill would create a fund to push money into job training and social services for impacted communities.
Booker is currently running for president, and many of his fellow 2020 Democratic candidates signed on as co-sponsors for the bill, including Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The advocates at NORML celebrate their 50th birthday next year, after all that time, they say that the Marijuana Justice Act is exactly the kind of law they’ve been pushing for.
“The Marijuana Justice Act is the most comprehensive piece of federal legislation ever introduced to end the failed policy of marijuana prohibition and to address the egregious harms that this policy has wrought on already marginalized communities,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a statement on the bill. “This robust legislation not only removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, but it also provides a path forward for the individuals and communities that have been most disproportionately impacted by our nation’s failed war on marijuana consumers.”
The National Cannabis Industry Association’s Executive Director Aaron Smith commented on those aspects of the legislation in a statement released not long after the bill was reintroduced.
“We cannot talk about making cannabis legal without considering how to undo the harms caused by years of prohibition,” said Smith.
“As more and more states move to regulate cannabis, it is completely unfair to continue saddling people with the lifelong negative effects that come with a criminal record, nor should a past arrest be a barrier to taking part in the burgeoning cannabis industry,” Smith said.
Smith said while much more work needs to be done at the state and federal level, “the Marijuana Justice Act sets an excellent example for others to follow, and will make it much easier for states to make necessary reforms to address this injustice and maximize the opportunities created by a legal cannabis market.”
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