Bill Establishes “Community Reinvestment Fund” of $500M Aimed at Repairing Some of the Damage Done by the War on Drugs
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) on Tuesday introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, legislation that ends federal marijuana prohibition and punishes states which enforce cannabis laws in a racially discriminatory manner.
“The question is no longer ‘should we legalize marijuana?’; it is ‘how do we legalize marijuana?’ We must do so in a way that recognizes that the people who suffered most under prohibition are the same people who should benefit most under legalization,” said Queen Adesuyi, policy associate at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).
“From disparate marijuana-related arrests and incarceration rates to deportations and justifications for police brutality – the war on drugs has had disparate harm on low-income communities and communities of color. It’s time to rectify that,” Adesuyi said.
Most Far-Reaching Marijuana Bill Ever Filed In Congress
“This is the single most far-reaching marijuana bill that’s ever been filed in either chamber of Congress,” said Tom Angell, founder and chairman of Marijuana Majority. “More than just getting the federal government out of the way so that states can legalize without DEA harassment, this new proposal goes even further by actually punishing states that have bad marijuana laws.
“Polls increasingly show growing majority voter support for legalization, so this is something that more senators should be signing on to right away,” Angell said.
A Path Forward
“Not only is it imperative we end our failed experiment of marijuana prohibition, we must also ensure justice for those who suffered most under these draconian policies,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri.
“We applaud Senator Booker for introducing this robust legislation that would not only remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, but provide a path forward for the individuals and communities that were most disproportionately targeted by our nation’s failed war on marijuana consumers,” Altieri said.
Bill Actively Encourages States To Legalize
The Marijuana Justice Act goes further is it actively encourages states to legalize cannabis, reports German Lopez at Vox. Specifically, the bill leverages federal funds to incentivize legalization in states that have enforced laws against marijuana in a way that disproportionately impacts low-income people and people of color — a category that includes virtually every state. (A 2015 report from the Sentencing Project, for one, estimated that black Americans are 3.7 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as their white counterparts, but only 1.3 times as likely to use pot.)
Booker has long criticized the war on drugs and supported medical marijuana legalization, but his office said this is the most sweeping proposal he’s ever put forward on changing the nation’s drug laws, according to Vox.
Booker is widely seen as a possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, reports MassRoots. While his work on criminal justice reform, medical marijuana and other liberal causes has endeared him to many progressives, others warn of his ties to Wall Street donors.
Concerns About Booker’s Big Pharma Ties
Many were concerned about a vote Booker took earlier this year against a Bernie Sanders-sponsored amendment on importation of pharmaceutical drugs from Canada which would have made prescriptions more affordable. It would also, however, have cut into Big Pharma’s obscene profits, and they have historically been big contributors to Booker’s campaign fund.
Booker, who joined the Senate in 2013 and was up for election in 2014, accepted $328,000 in donations from Big Pharma in 2014. That’s the most of any Senate Democrat running that year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That number, however, plummeted in 2016.
The problem became obvious enough this year that Booker announced a “pause” on fundraising from pharmaceutical companies, reports John Bowden at The Hill. Booker announced the change after a backlash from Democrats.
“Well, we put a pause on even receiving contributions from pharma companies because it arouses so much criticism and just stopped taking it,” Booker told NPR‘s Rachel Martin. Booker, who said he hails from “a Big Pharma state,” told NPR that the majority of his donations now come from individual contributors.
What Would Marijuana Justice Act Do?
The Marijuana Justice Act would do the following:
- Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, ending federal prohibition of marijuana
- 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 offenses
- Allow entities 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
- Provide for a process of expungement for marijuana offenses at the federal level
- Provide for a process of resentencing for marijuana offenses at the federal level
- Create a “Community Reinvestment Fund” of $500 million to invest in communities most impacted by the war on drugs, for programs such as job training, reentry, community centers, and more. Part of the funding will come from the aforementioned cuts to state law enforcement and prison construction.
‘It Is Time To Right The Wrongs Of Prohibition’
“In New Jersey, marijuana prohibition has disproportionately harmed communities of color,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the DPA. “In our state, African Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites even though both use marijuana at similar rates. Anecdotal evidence suggests similar disparities for Latinos.
“Marijuana legalization on the federal and state level must be fair and equitable and must repair past harms to communities of color,” Scott said. “It is time to right the wrongs of prohibition.”
‘This Bill Would Move Our Country Forward’
“Ending federal marijuana prohibition would bring the law in line with the opinion of the growing majority of Americans who want states to be able to enact their own marijuana laws without harassment by the DEA,” said attorney Shaleen Title, a founding board member of the Minority Cannabis Business Association and founder of THC Staffing Group.
“By divesting in prisons and reinvesting in job training and re-entry programs, this bill would move our country forward and prioritize building up our communities,” Title said of the Marijuana Justice Act.
The Marijuana Justice Act is introduced at a time of changing mores in the U.S.
Cannabis is legal in eight states, and medical marijuana is legal in twenty-nine states. Nevertheless, it has been estimated that only one percent of dispensary owners are people of color.
A landmark 2013 ACLU report showed that despite similar rates of use and sale with white counterparts, African Americans and Latinos comprised nearly 80 percent of the country’s annual marijuana possession arrests. More recently, racial disparities in marijuana arrests have continued in states like New York, Virginia, and Massachusetts.
Racial disparities have even continued in places that legalized marijuana, like Colorado (although overall arrests are down) and Washington, D.C. (mostly because Congress has blocked legal sales). The Marijuana Justice Act will tackle these issues.