Congress

Cory Booker just reintroduced a bill that would legalize weed

The bill would also take steps to repair damage the war on drugs has had on poor communities of color

]Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., arrives for the votes in the Senate to keep the government open on Feb. 14, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Cory Booker reintroduced the Marijuana Justice Act, a bill that would legalize marijuana and take steps to repair damage the war on drugs had on poor communities of color, to distinguish himself as a leader on criminal justice reform in the crowded field of presidential hopefuls.

The legislation removes marijuana from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Schedule of Controlled Substances, stripping the drug of its Schedule I classification as having “high potential for abuse.” That would lift the current patchwork of state marijuana laws, and legalize the possession, use and sale of marijuana on a federal level.

The act would also implement remedies to mass incarceration and racial wealth disparities that legalization advocates describe as “reparative justice,” steps that would help repair the consequences of the war on drugs.

The bill’s sponsors — Booker in the Senate and California Democratic House Reps. Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna — describe it as the “the most far-reaching marijuana legislation ever to be introduced in Congress.”

That’s not hyperbole, according to Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator on national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, which helped draft the bill. 

“The importance of this bill is it’s the first on a federal level to acknowledge the consequences of the War on Drugs on both the individual and community levels,” Adesuyi said.

“In places where marijuana offenses have been over-enforced and people are unable to move upwards socially and economically due to a marijuana arrest, the social and economic fabric of the community is affected,” Adesuyi continued.

The legislation acknowledges those harms in two ways.

The act would create a “community reinvestment fund” to direct tax revenue from marijuana sales into the minority communities that have borne the biggest brunt of severe marijuana laws.

“One of the great parts of the Marijuana Justice Act is that a community reinvestment fund acknowledges the disproportionate harm that has been shouldered by communities of color by taking the tax revenue from this new booming industry and concentrating it in the most harmed communities,” Adesuyi said.

Those investments could include job training, community centers and drug education programs aimed at prevention.

“Because what we have seen so far is that the people who have most benefited from this new industry don’t look like the people who have been most directly affected by the prohibition of marijuana. Most are white, wealthy, and male,” Adesuyi continued.

If passed, the act would also automatically expunge federal convictions for marijuana use and possession. The act would encourage states to revoke penalties for people with marijuana convictions and arrests that can lock them out of federal financial aid, private and public housing, and driver’s licenses. 

The Marijuana Justice Act shows how dramatically Democrats’ position on the issue has shifted since the party’s “tough on crime” era.

In the Senate, the bill is co-sponsored by several other 2020 hopefuls, including Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. All four have declared they will seek the Democratic presidential nomination. 

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