Marijuana Justice Act Seeks to Legalize Cannabis Nationwide


Lukas Barfield

August 10th, 2017

Policy


The full legalization of marijuana in all 50 states is the holy grail of marijuana activism. The idea of legalization nationwide seemed far-fetched and only in the Smokey dreams of marijuana enthusiast just a few years ago. Now with eight states and DC passing recreational marijuana, another twenty-nine states and DC embracing full plant medical cannabis and the myriad of other states that have passed low THC medical marijuana laws, full legalization seems closer than ever. A recent CBS poll that shows 61% of Americans think marijuana should be legalized, 88% support medical marijuana and 71% disagree with the Federal Government interfering with state marijuana laws is indicator legalization is on the horizon. Unfortunately, the new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, does not share in the belief that recreational or medical marijuana should be legal. Sessions sent a letter to Congress in May asking for funding to go after medical marijuana states, and recently he has hinted at a crack down on states with recreational marijuana. With growing public support for medical marijuana, a group of Senators pushed back against Sessions by reintroducing the CARERS Act. Now going even further, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D) has introduced a bill in the Senate that will legalize marijuana in all 50 states, as well as, seek to repair some of the damage done by the war on marijuana.

Senator Booker took to Facebook Live to introduce his new bill known as the Marijuana Justice Act (MJA). He cites in the video the disproportionate effect marijuana laws have had on low income and communities of color. Despite whites and African Americans using marijuana at similar rates, studies show African Americans are 4 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as their white counterparts. According to Booker, this inequality in marijuana arrests has not only affected the individuals arrested, but their families and communities as well. Law enforcement has arrested more people for marijuana possession than all violent crimes combined is another statistic that demonstrates the need for marijuana reform. Additionally, marijuana arrests make up over half of all drug arrests. He also points out the billions of dollars spent on enforcing racially biased marijuana laws, and says the money could be better used rebuilding low income communities who have suffered during marijuana prohibition. By taking a broad approach which includes complete marijuana legalization and community reinvestment, the MJA seeks to reverse some of the damage done by the war on marijuana. Here are some highlights of what the bill does.

The MJA will first deschedule marijuana as a controlled substance. This will legalize marijuana in all 50 states. Next, the act will provide incentives to states to legalize marijuana, and for states that already legalized it to fix any marijuana laws that disproportionally effect low income and communities of color. Furthermore, the historic act will expunge all Federal marijuana use and possession convictions, and set up a process whereby people incarcerated for marijuana use and possession will be able to petition a court to have their sentences reduced. Finally, and perhaps the most consequential piece of the bill, the MJA will set up a community reinvestment fund. The first of its kind fund can be spent on job training, reentry services, expenses related to the expungement of convictions, public libraries, community centers, programs and opportunities dedicated to youth and health education programs.

“Our country’s drug laws are badly broken and need to be fixed,” Senator Booker said. “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.” He continues.  “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.”

About Lukas Barfield



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