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Today, August 1, Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey introduced via Facebook Live the Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove “marijuana from the list of controlled substances, making it legal at the federal level,” according to the press release from Senator Booker’s website.
The bill attempts to reverse “decades of failed drug policy that has disproportionately impacted communities of color” by retroactively applying to those incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses. Booker is attempting to address, largely, the fact that black people are disproportionately arrested for marijuana use, getting arrested roughly four times more than white people despite the two groups using the same amount.
According to graphs published by the Washington Post, there is roughly no difference in the usage of marijuana between black people and white people but that does not reflect rates of arrest. In more than 100 counties, black people were four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 52 percent of arrests made in 2010 were for marijuana possession, and “despite roughly equal usage rates, blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.”
Senator Booker’s bill seeks to address that. The Marijuana Justice Act aims to make marijuana legal at the federal level, use federal funds to create incentives for states to look at their arrests for disproportionately targeting “low-income individuals and people of color,” as well as “automatically expunge federal marijuana use and possession crimes,” and “allow an individual currently serving time in federal prison for marijuana use or possession crimes to petition a court for a resentencing.”
According to the CATO Institute’s policy analysis, “Dose of Reality: The Effect of State Marijuana Legalizations,” “state marijuana legalizations have had minimal effect on marijuana use and related outcomes.”
It’s been nearly four years since commercial marijuana markets opened in Colorado and Washington, and according to the Drug Policy Alliance and an article from the Washington Post, legalization did not affect teenage use or traffic fatalities, but led to a downturn in arrests and an uptick in tax revenue.
And on Nov. 8, 2016, other states—California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine—voted to legalize recreational marijuana and others—Florida, North Dakota, Arkansas and Montana—approved medical marijuana usage.
The bill currently does not have any co-sponsors but, according to the Cannabist and Booker’s livestream, he’s planning to “drum up bipartisan support.”
While there might be support at a civilian level, and even amongst Booker’s peers, he’s facing the staunchly anti-marijuana Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He argued for abandoning a policy that protected medical marijuana usage against federal interference—a policy that the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to extend.
In an April 2016 Senate drug hearing, Sessions said, “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger.”