A path to federally legal cannabis is alive once again as Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced Senate bill 1689, the Marijuana Justice Act on Tuesday, Aug. 1.
Booker’s bill would remove cannabis from the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, while also allowing people serving jail time for marijuana-related offenses to be resentenced, and expunging federal marijuana-use and -possession crimes.
“Our country’s drug laws are badly broken and need to be fixed,” Sen. Booker stated in a press release. “They don’t make our communities any safer—instead, they divert critical resources from fighting violent crimes, tear families apart, unfairly impact low-income communities and communities of color and waste billions in taxpayer dollars each year.”
“Descheduling marijuana and applying that change retroactively to people currently serving time for marijuana offenses is a necessary step in correcting this unjust system. States have so far led the way in reforming our criminal justice system, and it’s about time the federal government catches up and begins to assert leadership.”
The legislation goes a step further in incentivizing states by cutting federal funding for law enforcement and prison construction if a state disproportionately arrests people of color and low-income individuals for marijuana-related offenses. Finally, the bill would create a “Community Reinvestment Fund” to invest $500 million in communities most impacted by the war on drugs to support job training, youth programs, community centers and more.
“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,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri in a blog post on the organization’s website. “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 individuals and communities that were most disproportionately targeted by our nation’s failed war on marijuana consumers.”
The Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) also announced its endorsement of the legislation. Jesce Horton, co-founder and chairman of the organization, issued a statement in a press release, saying, “The bill recognizes the consequences of the targeted war on drugs and outlines a plan to move our country forward by divesting in prisons and reinvesting in job training, reentry programs, legal clinics, public libraries and more. We’re excited to support and endorse the Marijuana Justice Act and hope to keep seeing legislation like this at the state and local levels.”
Kayvan Khalatbari, MCBA Policy Chair and founder of Denver Relief Consulting, added, “Ceasing the travesty that is the drug war, especially the disparate impact it has had on communities of color, has long needed a leader within our federal government to say enough is enough. I applaud Senator Booker for his determination in not just ending the war on drugs, but ensuring meaningful reinvestment in the lives and communities that have been decimated in its wake.”
Booker has made criminal justice reform one of his central issues, per NorthJersey.com, and has argued that drug laws perpetuate poverty in cities by creating generations of people whose nonviolent criminal records prohibit them from taking advantage of programs like food stamps and public housing.
Booker worked as a tenant lawyer, City Council member and mayor of Newark, N.J., where he created the city’s Office of Reentry to help formerly incarcerated individuals re-integrate into their communities and he has seen the effects of marijuana laws first-hand, according to a press release.
In his time in the Senate, he has been an outspoken critic of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ efforts to revive the war on drugs, and earlier this year re-introduced the bipartisan CARERS Act , which would allow patients to access medical marijuana in states where it is legal without fear of federal persecution, according to a press release emailed to Cannabis Business Times.
Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule 1 drug, the same regulatory class as heroin, and although Booker’s bill would remove cannabis from this federal scheduling system, marijuana could still be prohibited on a state or local level.
John Malanca, co-founder of United Patients Group, is optimistic about the effects Booker’s bill would have not only on consumers, but also on medical marijuana patients.
“We work with thousands of patients across the country who use medical cannabis to address serious conditions and alleviate needless suffering,” Malanca said in a statement to Cannabis Business Times. “Even though a grassroots movement has led to medical access in 29 states, federal recognition is key, and Senator Booker’s legislation is long overdue.”
“Legalizing cannabis at the federal level means that universities and other medical research institutions can conduct their work without fear. It means opening the floodgates of investment for entrepreneurs to innovate and bring to the market safer, more effective treatment options. It means that rigorous and standardized testing can be conducted at the federal level, and that marketers of cannabis products will have to validate their claims,” Malanca said. “For patients and their families, that can only be good news.”
The Marijuana Justice Act is similar to a 2015 bill from Senator Bernie Sanders, The Hill reports. Sanders’ legislation, however, had no co-sponsors and never made it out of committee. Booker’s bill also has no co-sponsor, but other senators may join the effort.
“[Booker’s] bill is the most ambitious marijuana bill we have seen in Congress,” Queen Adesuyi, Policy Associate at the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “We applaud Senator Booker for his leadership on this issue.”