The Marijuana Justice Act is getting some fresh attention in Congress.
Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey just re-introduced the Marijuana Justice Act on Thursday, a bill that would legalize cannabis at the federal level if passed. A companion measure will be introduced in the House by Reps. Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna, both Democrats from California. Booker first introduced the bill in the Senate in 2017, but the measure was never taken up for a vote by the body. Booker said in a statement announcing the re-introduction of the bill that cannabis prohibition has had a devastating effect on minority communities.
"The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs, it's been a war on people, and disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals," Booker said. "The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of this unfair, unjust, and failed policy by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances and making it legal at the federal level."
In addition to exempting cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, Booker's bill would expunge the records of those convicted of federal charges for marijuana use or possession. The Marijuana Justice Act would also provide resources for community re-entry and job training programs.
"It's not enough to simply decriminalize marijuana," Booker said. "We must expunge the records of those who have served their time. The end we seek is not just legalization, it's justice."
Booker noted that people of different races use cannabis and commit marijuana offenses at similar rates but the law is applied disproportionately.
"Black folks, who are no different in their usage rates, or even the dealing rate, are almost four times more likely to be incarcerated for marijuana," Booker said. "We do not have equal justice under the law."
Co-Sponsors Signing On to Booker's Bill
The Marijuana Justice Act is already receiving widespread support from Booker's colleagues in the Senate. Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet, and Bernie Sanders, who like Booker have all announced a bid for the 2020 Democratic Party nomination for president, say that they will support the cannabis legalization bill.
"Hundreds of thousands of people are arrested for possession of marijuana every single year," Sanders said in a statement. "We must end the absurd situation of marijuana being listed as a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin. It is time to decriminalize marijuana, expunge past marijuana convictions and end the failed war on drugs."
Harris also released a statement about her sponsorship of the bill.
"Marijuana laws in this country have not been applied equally, and as a result we have criminalized marijuana use in a way that has led to the disproportionate incarceration of young men of color." she wrote. "Legalizing marijuana is the smart thing to do and the right thing to do to advance justice and equality for every American."
Both Warren and Harris have previously opposed cannabis legalization but have now indicated support for a change in federal marijuana policy. Two weeks ago, Harris admitted to using cannabis in the past, noting "I did inhale."
"Listen, I think [it] gives a lot of people joy, and we need more joy," Harris said.
She even went so far as to claim a sort of cultural imperative to use the herb.
"Half my family's from Jamaica," she said. "Are you kidding me?"
But that characterization garnered a swift rebuke from Harris' father, a Stanford University emeritus professor of economics.
"My dear departed grandmothers … as well as my deceased parents, must be turning in their grave right now to see their family's name, reputation and proud Jamaican identity being connected, in any way, jokingly or not, with the fraudulent stereotype of a pot-smoking joy seeker and in the pursuit of identity politics," he wrote to the website Jamaica Global Online.
Clarice, a Melbourne-based writer, began her career covering the technology industry and now writes, edits and interviews subject matter experts in the Cannabis Industry.