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Political Analyst – Derek Thomas
Sen. Cory Booker, a democrat from New Jersey, has introduced a Hail Mary of a bill that, if passed, would actually incentivize states to legalize marijuana. In total, the bill would remove cannabis from the drug schedule completely, encourage states to legalize it, punish states that don’t, and work to fix some of the past injustices done to Americans over marijuana possession and other marijuana charges.
Senator Booker began winning over marijuana fans when he went savage on Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing. What some considered the beginning of a 2020 presidential run, Booker attempted his best to rally democrats and some moderate republicans to block the nomination of the prohibitionist racist gremlin.
Many don’t realize, but Senator Booker was the first sitting senator to testify against a fellow sitting senator at a confirmation hearing for a Cabinet position.
The legislation that Senator Booker unveiled last month would be another swipe at Sessions. The bill would remove cannabis from the federal scheduling system, a huge win for marijuana advocates, patients, researchers, entrepreneurs, and government income.
While this would end marijuana's status as an illegal drug on the federal level, it could still be prohibited on a state or local level. It’s true that more than 60 percent of the country supports legalizing marijuana, up from a modest 31 percent in 2000. For people in the 18 to 34 range, support is even higher, with 77 percent in favor of recreational legalization. But there are still plenty of states that would work to prohibit marijuana and punish those that consume it.
And additionally, Booker's bill, called the Marijuana Justice Act, would also cut federal money from states with disproportionate marijuana arrest rates for minorities and the poor. That’s right, the bill would actually punish states with poor marijuana laws.
It would do this by withholding some criminal justice funding from states that haven't legalized marijuana if they exhibit racially disproportionate arrest or incarceration rates. This would end up applying to every state his which marijuana is not currently legal: A 2013 ACLU report found that nationwide, blacks were nearly four times as likely to be arrested on marijuana charges as whites, despite similar rates of use of the drug.
“This is the single most far-reaching marijuana bill that’s ever been filed in either chamber of Congress,” Tom Angell, head of the pro-legalization Marijuana Majority, said in a statement. “More than just getting the federal government out of the way so that states can legalize without DEA harassment, this new proposal goes even further by actually punishing states that have bad marijuana laws.”
Booker's legislation would effectively encourage states to legalize marijuana to avoid these penalties. Funds withheld from states would be put toward a federal “Community Reinvestment Fund” that would receive a separate $500 million in appropriations each year.
The fund would be used to “establish a grant program to reinvest in communities most affected by the war on drugs.” It would cover job-training programs, criminal re-entry assistance, public libraries and community centers, youth programs, and health education.
Perhaps even better (especially for those of us with BS marijuana charges like me) would allow for a process that would expunge federal marijuana convictions and allow for resentencing of people currently serving time for federal marijuana offenses. “For decades, the failed War on Drugs has locked up millions of nonviolent drug offenders — especially for marijuana-related offenses — at an incredible cost of lost human potential, torn-apart families and communities, and taxpayer dollars,” Booker said in a Facebook post introducing the legislation.
He added that the legislation would “legalize marijuana at the federal level and go even further in an effort to remedy many of the failures of the War on Drugs. This is the right thing to do for public safety and will help reduce our overflowing prison population.”
But Congress is currently under control by Republicans, many of whom adamantly oppose marijuana legalization. In addition, President Trump appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has made it clear that he intends to ramp up punishment for marijuana possession and use.
Despite the long shot chance, Booker's legalization bill should be a sign of encouragement for advocates. It reflects not only the country's changing views on the substance, but Washington’s view as well.
We will really see the bills potential when it gets additional co-sponsors. If a few republicans hop on board, it may have a chance to at least make it out of committee and onto the floor. A few notorious republicans like Rand Paul have co-sponsored marijuana and hemp bills in the past, and with the crazy political season we have been experiencing legislators on both sides of the isle may find themselves taking risks to gain support.
Write your congressman in support of this bill. It’s the most comprehensive and reformative bill we have yet to see for marijuana.