A new congressional bill presented this week attempts to force government and marijuana to get along better. If both are on the same side, it could end a decades-long federal ban on the cannabis plant. The Marijuana Justice Act of 2017, introduced by New Jersey Senator, Cory Booker, tries to end prohibition at the federal level and address the impact that such a ban has on both government and citizens today.
In a Facebook Live announcement, Booker advised the federal government to “get out of the illegal marijuana business. He hopes it will permit law enforcement to prioritize their spending and time on matters more serious than weed. The country is moving toward full marijuana legalization. Eight states and the District of Columbia now permit recreational weed use, without increasing violent crime rates.
Booker has a valid point. These states are all enjoying increased revenues. Their police forces are freer to pursue serious crime. Every state adopting policies for marijuana legalization are seeing positive gains for their efforts. In an attempt to change federal marijuana policy, the bill seeks to remove it from the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970, where it lists as a Schedule 1 drug beside LSD and heroin.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, a longtime non-profit for drug reform, the bill also attempts to achieve the following:
- Slash federal funding for the construction of prisons and state law enforcement in states disproportionately arresting or incarcerating people of color or low-income individuals for cannabis crimes.
- Permit entities to sue states that arrest or jail low-income individuals or people of color in disproportionate numbers for weed offenses.
- Prevent the deportation of individuals for cannabis activities.
Allow for federal expungement of marijuana offenses.
- Permit federal resentencing for cannabis crimes.
- Set aside $500 million as a “Community Reinvestment Fund” to help communities most affected by the war on drugs, and implement programs for job training, community centers, re-entry, and more. The above-mentioned cuts to prison construction and state law enforcement will make up part of this funding.
Booker continued, “These marijuana arrests are targeting poor and minority communities and targeting our veterans. We see the injustice of it all. I have seen young teenagers getting arrested, saddled with criminal convictions for the rest of their lives.” He noted the consequences of felony weed convictions for these people too, including loss of business licenses, Pell Grants, food stamps, and public housing.
The Drug Policy Alliance complimented the bill’s attempts to undo the harm done by cannabis prohibition in these communities and to forge a path for future treatment of the drug by the federal government. There is no longer any question about whether we should legalize marijuana anymore. The question now is how we legalize it so that those most harmed by prohibition can now benefit.
The bill aims to force legalization in such a way that recognizes those who suffered the most under federal marijuana policy. These people should benefit most from legalization. According to Queen Adesuyi, the DPA’s policy associate, “From disparate marijuana arrests and incarceration rates to deportations and justifications for police brutality, the war on drugs has had a disparate harm on low-income communities and communities of color. It is time to rectify that.”
Co-founder of the United Patients Group, John Malanca, believes that proposed changes under the bill are a step in the right direction, but that it has taken far too long. He said in comments made via email, “We work with thousands of patients across the country who uses medical cannabis to address serious conditions and alleviate needless suffering.”
He continued to say, “Even though a grassroots movement has led to medical access in 29 states, federal recognition is key, and Sen. Booker’s legislation is long overdue.” He also reiterated that legalizing cannabis at the federal level would enable scientists to research the plant without fear and without the bureaucratic red tape that they face today.
As Malanca says, changing federal marijuana law will “open the floodgates of investment for entrepreneurs to innovate and bring to the market safer, more effective treatment options, and that rigorous and standardized testing can be conducted at the federal level, and that marketers of cannabis products will have to validate their claims.” This can only be good news for patients and their families.
Over the last few months, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been trying to overturn the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which protects legal states from federal interference in their marijuana activities. Fortunately, Congress refused to do this and the rights of states to make their own cannabis laws remain intact, protected from federal persecution.
The amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, summed it up nicely, “It is more humane to regulate medical marijuana than to criminalize it. I do not want the Justice Department spending money pursuing medical marijuana patients who are following state law. We have more important things for it to do than tracking down doctors, epileptics, or others using medical marijuana legally in their state.”