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August 03, 2017

Sen. Cory Booker Introduces Marijuana Justice Act to Legalize Pot

WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to recent polls, 88 percent of Americans support access to marijuana for those who need it for conditions like Crohn's disease, PTSD, insomnia and dozens (if not hundreds) more—and an astonishing 61 percent believe it should be legalized unconditionally except for the same sort of regulation applied to alcohol. So perhaps it was about time that someone introduced a bill in Congress to effect that legalization. Enter Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).  The text of Booker's Marijuana Justice Act (MJA) is largely devoted to redefinitions of existing laws to remove references to marijuana (or "marihuana")—such as from the FDA's list of Schedule I drugs, which are defined as drugs with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," neither of which are true of marijuana, as most who use it are well aware. At this point, more than half of states have legalized marijuana use in one way or another. Eight states plus the District of Columbia have made it legal for recreational use, and those who need it for medical purposes can already get it (or will soon be able to as recently passed laws continue to kick in) in 21 others—all this despite the fact that it remains illegal under federal law. "You see what’s happening around this country right now," Booker stated. "Eight states and the District of Columbia have moved to legalize marijuana. And these states are seeing decreases in violent crime in their states. They’re seeing increases in revenue to their states. They’re seeing their police forces being able to focus on serious crime. They’re seeing positive things come out of that experience." Booker also noted that persons of color are particular targets of "pot cops." "These marijuana arrests are targeting poor and minority communities, targeting our veterans. We see the injustice of it all," Booker said. "I have seen young teenagers getting arrested, saddled with criminal convictions for the rest of their lives," and are forced "to deal with about 40,000 collateral consequences," including, "They can’t get business licenses, Pell Grants, public housing, food stamps." Similarly, the ACLU found that despite the fact that whites and blacks use marijuana at similar rates, blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession and face harsher, longer sentences when they are convicted for it. In fact, according to Salon.com's Michael Glassman, "Nearly half of all drug possession charges (574,000) were for marijuana possession. For context, the number of all violent crime arrests in 2015 combined was 505,681." So besides the pure legalization aspect, other things the MJA would do is "cut federal funding for state law enforcement and prison construction if a state disproportionately arrests and/or incarcerates low-income individuals and/or people of color for marijuana offense"; "allow entities [such as NORML or the Drug Policy Alliance] to sue states that disproportionately arrest and/or incarcerate low-income individuals and/or people of color for marijuana offenses"; "prevent deportations of individuals for marijuana offenses"; and "provide for a process of expungement for marijuana offenses at the federal level" as well as resentence many currently in prison for marijuana offenses. Congress recently passed the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to the federal budget bill, continuing to prohibit federal law enforcement authorities from spending taxpayer funds to bust marijuana users and providers in states where the substance has already been legalized. Before the amendment's passage, however, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III argued that, "I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives." On the other hand, a Quinnipiac poll conducted this past April found that the amendment was supported by 94 percent of the public. (Also of interest: According to ZMEScience.com, "the World Health Organization and the United Nations have called for drugs to be decriminalized, the war on drugs put to end, and a shift to a 'prevention and treatment' way of addressing the problem.") Booker's bill would also create a "Community Reinvestment Fund" of $500 million for the communities most impacted by the war on drugs. That fund would provide money for programs such as job training, reentry, community centers and more, part of which funding would come from the cuts to state law enforcement and prison construction set-asides. While it's too early to tell how this bill will do in the Republican-controlled congress, marijuana legalization does seem to be a policy that crosses party lines, since so many on all sides of the political spectrum use it.

 
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