In his latest bid to win over the hearts and minds of the left leading up to his 2020 presidential campaign, Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) has rolled out a new federal marijuana legalization bill.
On Thursday, Booker and Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Ro Khanna (D-CA) introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, which seeks to remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances, thus legalizing it on the federal level.
In addition to federal legalization, the bill would retroactively expunge the criminal records of those who had been charged with marijuana possession and allow those currently serving time for the offense to petition for re-sentencing, as well as provide job training and other resources to those convicted under marijuana possession laws.
The goal of the bill is to counteract the harmful effects that stringent drug laws have had on people of color and other marginalized communities. Other Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), have also given their full-throated support of the bill, signing on as co-sponsors.
“The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs, it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals,” Booker said in a statement provided by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of this unfair, unjust, and failed policy.”
The failed War on Drugs has really been a war on people—disproportionately criminalizing poor people, people of color & people with mental illness. I’m reintroducing the #MarijuanaJustice Act to begin reversing our failed federal drug policies. Join us: https://t.co/K4Xgmai5xk
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) February 28, 2019
Throughout his career, Booker has been intensely focused on marijuana law reform. He first tried to introduce a version of the Marijuana Justice Act in 2017; although the bill was introduced to the Senate in August of that year, it failed to progress further, according to Congress.gov.
Since announcing his presidential run, Booker has made it clear that federal legalization will be a cornerstone of his campaign. In his first radio interview after publicly announcing his candidacy, Booker told radio show host Tom Joyner that criminal justice reform would be a major focus of his campaign: “It means changing our drugs laws. Ending prohibition against marijuana,” he said.
Although recreational marijuana is currently legal in ten states, as well as Washington, D.C., it is not legal on the federal level. According to data from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, even though both groups use marijuana at similar levels.
While the Marijuana Justice Act is intended to combat the disproportionate effects of criminalization on people of color, it’s not entirely clear whether that would be the case. A 2018 report by the Drug Policy Alliance, for instance, found that even in states where marijuana is legal, people of color were still arrested more often than white people on marijuana possession charges.
Yet Booker is hopeful this sweeping legislation can affect broader change. “It’s not enough to simply decriminalize marijuana. We must also repair the damage caused by reinvesting in those communities that have been most harmed by the War on Drugs,” he said in his statement. “And we must expunge the records of those who have served their time. The end we seek is not just legalization, it’s justice.”
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