If Sen. Cory Booker's new legislation is successful, the United States will be one step closer to legalizing marijuana. Refinery29 has learned that the New Jersey Democrat is introducing the Marijuana Justice Act today, a new bill that would remove cannabis from the U.S. list of controlled substances.
This would mean that weed would automatically be legal at the federal level, but states could still decide on the best marijuana policies for them. As of July 2017, 29 states — including Washington, D.C., and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico — have legalized medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Cannabis for recreational use is legal in eight states and D.C.
"Our country’s drug laws are badly broken and need to be fixed. 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," Booker said in a statement provided to Refinery29.
The Marijuana Justice Act would also provide federal funds as an incentive to states where marijuana is still illegal, states with a record of disproportionately arresting or incarcerating low-income folks and people of color for weed-related offenses, as a way of encouraging them to change their laws.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Americans are about 3.7 times more likely than white Americans to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses, even though both groups use cannabis at roughly equal rates. And in some states and counties, that disparity is great: Black Americans are 8, 10, or 15 times more likely to be arrested in some areas.
Booker's proposed legislation seeks to change the consequences of this imbalance as well: It would expunge crimes at the federal level related to the use and possession of marijuana; allow those currently serving time in federal prison for marijuana-related crimes to ask the court for a re-sentencing; and create a reinvestment fund to help communities impacted by the War on Drugs, while funding programs such as job training, health education, youth opportunities, and reentry services.
"Descheduling marijuana and applying that change retroactively to people currently serving time for marijuana offenses is a necessary step in correcting this unjust system," Booker said. "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."
But the bill faces a difficult road ahead: Attorney General Jeff Sessions strongly opposes the legalization of cannabis. In the past, Sessions asked Congress to undo the policies that provide protections to the medical marijuana industry so he can crack down on providers. Though the Republican-controlled Congress has softened its stance on the use of medical marijuana, it has yet to signal that it would allow cannabis to be removed from the list of controlled substances.
Nevertheless, the Marijuana Justice Act represents a step forward for the legalization of marijuana in the country. If it ends up becoming law, the U.S. will join a growing list of countries that have either legalized or decriminalized cannabis.
Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity and would like to remind its readers that marijuana usage continues to be an offense under Federal Law, regardless of state marijuana laws.