Justice

Cory Booker Has a Bold New Plan for Marijuana

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced a bill on Tuesday that would do more than legalize marijuana at the federal level if passed. It would also seek to address the racial injustices of prohibition.

The bill would remove marijuana from the list of federally banned substances—a proposal that has been previously introduced without results. But unlike past attempts to reform federal marijuana laws, Booker's Marijuana Justice Act would create financial incentives for states to amend their own marijuana laws if the ones currently on the books have disproportionately impacted minorities.

Research has repeatedly demonstrated that prohibition hurts minorities, who are more likely to be arrested for low-level marijuana offenses. Those charges often result in long-term economic problems (e.g. being denied jobs, loans, and housing applications.)

"Our country’s drug laws are badly broken and need to be fixed," a statement released by Booker's office on Tuesday reads. "They don’t make our communities any safer—instead they divert critical resources from fighting violent crimes, tear families apart, unfairly impact low-income communities and communities of color, and waste billions in taxpayer dollars each year."

In order to right the wrongs of prohibition, Booker said the government needs to deschedule marijuana. Additionally, his bill would allow people to apply for resentencing, or to have their records cleared, for federal marijuana convictions.

Legalization advocates celebrated the bill as an ambitious and comprehensive piece of legislation that reflects evolving public opinion toward marijuana reform. Activists have been insisting for some time that legalization alone doesn't go far enough to resolve the racial injustices of prohibition, which is why they've pushed for states to adopt retroactive sentencing policies similar to the one that Booker proposed.

So far, however, only two states—California and Oregon—have included such provisions in their legalization laws.

"This legislation, if enacted, will provide a strong incentive for states to modernize their marijuana laws," Tom Angell, founder of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority, told ATTN:.

marijuana

"This bill goes much further than anything I would have even thought about asking a senator to introduce," Angell said. "It punishes states for having bad marijuana laws. Up until now, the debate surrounding this issue has been focused largely on states' rights and allowing states to set their own policies. This kind of turns that whole argument on its head."

Booker also wants the government to "create a community reinvestment fund to reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs." According to the press release, the funds could be used for job training, reentry services, expenses related to expunging marijuana convictions, public libraries, community centers, youth programs, and health education programs.

"This bill is the most ambitious marijuana bill we have seen in Congress,” Queen Adesuyi, policy associate at the Drug Policy Alliance, wrote in a statement Tuesday. “Uniquely, it recognizes the fact that people of color have borne the brunt of the failed war on drugs and seeks to repair the damage done."