U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee Introduces House Version of Marijuana Justice Act

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee Introduces House Version of Marijuana Justice Act

The bill mirrors U.S. Sen. Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act, introduced last summer.

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January 18, 2018

Last summer, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker introduced the Marijuana Justice Act to the U.S. Senate. While it has remained in the Senate Judiciary Committee since August, the bill is back in the spotlight this week: With U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna as sponsors (both from California), it was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.

At its core, the bill would remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances. The right to dictate marijuana policy would be given to the states, a move that has been introduced to the U.S. Congress several times in recent years. The Marijuana Justice Act is written from a social-justice angle, however, rather than simple legalization.

“This bill is really an essential step in correcting the injustices of the failed war on drugs,” Lee said in a press call, “namely the racial disparities in marijuana arrests and incarcerations.”

The legislators said yesterday that federal inmates would have a chance to get marijuana-related convictions dropped and eventually expunged.

Booker called the bill a “reverse of the 1994 Crime Bill,” saying: “It takes states that have not gone toward legalization and creates incentives for them to change their marijuana laws.”

And where Booker’s bill in the Senate has only attracted one co-sponsor (Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon), Lee and Khanna found themselves in the company of 17 co-sponsors when they introduced their version of the bill. (Those co-sponsors include no Republicans.)

The backdrop of the House bill is, of course, the Jan. 19 federal budget deadline, which includes a cloud of uncertainty around the Rohrabacher amendment, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Jan. 4 repeal of the Cole Memo. The Rohrabacher amendment bars the federal government from spending funds on the prosecution of state-legal medical marijuana operators; its fate is determined when the U.S. Congress passes budget bills.

Beyond those federal policy obstacles, Lee sees the Marijuana Justice Act as a path toward renewed justice in the U.S. Not only would this bill pave the way toward an estimated $40-billion industry, she said, but its impact on the criminal justice system would be generation-defining.

“We know who’s most likely to suffer from a revival of the war on drugs,” she said on the press call. “The Trump administration has made a major miscalculation.

“I don’t think the democratic movement can be stopped at all now,” Lee said.

Top image courtesy of Adobe Stock