August 1, 2017; Politico
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has filed a bill called the Marijuana Justice Act that would legalize the drug at the federal level. It would also provide an unusually structured incentive for the states to follow suit by withholding certain kinds of federal money from states who incarcerate poor or minority residents disproportionately under state marijuana enforcement laws.
Booker announced the measure on Facebook Live, saying, “You see these marijuana arrests happening so much in our country, targeting certain communities—poor communities, minority communities—targeting people with an illness.”
Under the legislation, federal convictions for marijuana use and possession would be expunged and prisoners serving time for a marijuana offense would be entitled to a sentencing hearing.
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Those “aggrieved” by a disproportionate arrest or imprisonment rate would be able to sue, according to the bill. And a Community Reinvestment Fund would be established to “reinvest in communities most affected by the war on drugs” for everything from re-entry programs to public libraries.
“This is the single most far-reaching marijuana bill that’s ever been filed in either chamber of Congress,” Tom Angell, chairman of the group Marijuana Majority, said in a statement. “More than just getting the federal government out of the way so that states can legalize without [Drug Enforcement Administration] 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,” he said. “So this is something that more senators should be signing onto right away.”
As readers know, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recently redoubled his rhetoric against marijuana use. New Jersey has not yet accomplished legalization, and Gov. Chris Christie has promised to veto any marijuana legalization bill. He will leave office in January, however, and the Democratic frontrunner for that office, Phil Murphy, has come out in favor of legal marijuana.—Ruth McCambridge