Marijuana Bill Hailed as Transformative but Is Likely to Fail

Cory Booker speaking at a rally at the U.S. Capitol in 2017. (Unmodified photo by Mobilus In Mobili used under a Creative Commons license. http://bit.ly/RT9dL0)

On August 2, 2017, Senator Cory Booker, D-NJ, introduced a bill to Congress that would legalize marijuana at the federal level.

Tom Angell of the pro legalization Marijuana Majority stated, “this is the single most far-reaching marijuana bill that’s ever been filed in either chamber of Congress”, because it not only legalizes marijuana but would also expunge marijuana crimes from people’s records and incentivize states to legalize cannabis.

Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule 1 drug along with heroin and LSD, meaning that it has no medical value and can be abused. Despite this classification, 29 states allow the use of medical marijuana to aid in treating ailments such as Crohn’s disease and glaucoma.

The Marijuana Justice Act would remove marijuana from this list and make it legal under federal law. As it stands now, legal marijuana at the state level is in conflict with federal law and could potentially face a federal crackdown from the Trump administration.

If marijuana were to be legalized at the federal level, states would still have the right to maintain its illegal status.

In order to pressure states that choose to keep marijuana illegal, Booker’s bill would cut federal funding from states if law enforcement disproportionately targets poor and minority individuals for marijuana related crimes.

Unfortunately, racially disproportionate arrest rates are incredibly common and in most circumstances states would fail this test.

According to a 2013 American Civil Liberties Union report, “marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession”.

The money withheld from states for exhibiting disproportionate arrest or incarceration rates would be put toward a $500 million “Community Reinvestment Fund” that would invest in communities devastated by the war on drugs. The money would go towards supporting programs such as job training, health education, criminal re-entry, youth programs and more.

The bill would go a step further in automatically expunging federal marijuana convictions and giving those currently serving time for marijuana related crimes the opportunity to petition the court for resentencing.

In a Facebook post introducing the legislation, Booker stated, “Our goal with the Marijuana Justice Act is restorative justice—finding ways to take communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the failed War on Drugs and helping them to heal, helping them to recover from what has been an unjust application of the law.”

The bill is ambitious, to say the least, and most likely will not go anywhere. Most members of Congress remain publicly opposed to legalization and the Trump administration continues to denounce recreational marijuana.

While President Barack Obama had a “hands off” approach to legalized recreational marijuana, the Trump administration has a different agenda. In late February former press secretary Sean Spicer stated, “when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people. There’s still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”

Despite the pushback from D.C., a recent Gallup poll concluded that support for legal marijuana use among American’s is up to 60 percent.

The Marijuana Justice Act will most likely not be passed but has surely expanded the discussion regarding the logistics of marijuana legalization

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