New Jersey Democrat Sen. Corey Booker introduced legislation this week which would both end federal prohibition of marijuana and discourage state legislators from enacting overly harsh penalties for possession of the plant.
Bookers Marijuana Justice Act would completely remove federal penalties for the use and possession of marijuana, currently a Schedule 1 controlled substance. In addition, it would expunge convictions for millions of Americans found guilty of marijuana-related charges and give those still rotting in federal prisons on such charges the opportunity to petition for new sentencing.
In the interest of getting the federal government completely out of the pot policing business, Booker’s bill would also withhold federal law enforcement funding from states that choose to continue harshly prosecuting residents for marijuana-related offenses, particularly in instances when that prosecutorial zeal has demonstrable and disproportionate negative effect on minority communities.
“You see these marijuana arrests happening so much in our country, targeting certain communities — poor communities, minority communities — targeting people with an illness,” Booker said as he revealed his legislation.
The lawmaker contends that legislation stopping federal marijuana prohibition makes sense at a time when eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana and 30 state allow for its medicinal consumption.
“They’re actually seeing positive things coming out of that experience. Now I believe the federal government should get out of the illegal marijuana business,” Booker said, adding that he’s “disturbed” by the current push for harsher marijuana penalties under the current administration.
In addition to decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level, Booker’s bill would provide $500 million in annual funding for services like job training, libraries and youth programs in communities affected most by the government’s failed War on Drugs.
Marijuana reform advocates are thrilled with the legislation.
“Not only is it imperative we end our failed experiment of marijuana prohibition, we must also ensure justice for those who suffered most under these draconian policies,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri, “We applaud Senator Booker for introducing this robust legislation that would not only remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, but provide a path forward for the individuals and communities that were most disproportionately targeted by our nation’s failed war on marijuana consumers.”
Also likely happy with the lawmaker’s efforts are the governors of states where voters have already opted to legalize marijuana. Those governors are increasingly facing big questions about what Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ weird anti-cannabis crusade means for billions of dollars of newly legal industry in their states.
And if polls are any indicator, average Americans are also largely on board with the plan. In March, public support for legalization reached an all-time high as 57 percent of Americans told General Social Survey they’d support such an effort.
Of course, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows for drug reform advocates.
“If you wanted to craft a bill that would alienate Republicans in Washington, D.C., and governors and state legislators of both parties across the country, you’d be hard pressed to surpass the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017,” Reason magazine reporter Mike Riggs wrote of the legislation.
And he’s right. A bill that calls for cutting funding to the prison industrial complex while also eliminating one of its favorite revenue sources isn’t going to get much love on Capitol Hill.
But it’s long past time for American voters to demand the “why” behind the federal government’s continued prohibition of marijuana. And none of that “good people don’t smoke it” or debunked “gateway drug” nonsense. Let them tell the truth. Petty marijuana arrests make the state a boatload of money. They make private prisons a boatload of money. They keep patients from trying alternative pain remedies rather than synthetic drugs, making the pharmaceutical industry a boatload of money .