While there are five states in the U.S. that have legalized recreational marijuana and about 29 others (including D.C.) that allow it for medical purposes, weed is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government. One lawmaker is trying to change that with a new bill that would legalize the drug nationwide.
Sen. Cory Booker (NJ) introduced a bill [PDF] on Tuesday that would amend the Controlled Substances Act that would drop the federal prohibition on marijuana. Beyond that, it would also encourage states that haven’t yet to legalize it.
The war on drugs
Booker discussed his reasons for the bill in an announcement on Facebook Live, saying that the government’s war on drugs has split up families, incarcerated too many Americans, and wasted billions of taxpayer dollars in the process.
“For decades, the failed War on Drugs has locked up millions of nonviolent drug offenders — especially for marijuana-related offenses — at an incredible cost of lost human potential, torn apart families and communities, and taxpayer dollars,” Booker said.
When it comes to nonviolent drug use like marijuana, Booker notes that African-Americans are “arrested four times more so than someone who is white.”
Legalizing marijuana could do a lot to address those issues, Booker says, noting that states that have done so have seen a decrease in violent crime, increases in revenue, and police forces that can focus their time, energy, and resources on serious crime.
“They’re actually seeing positive things coming out of that experience,” Booker said, adding that he believes the federal government should get out of “the illegal marijuana business.”
He adds that he disagrees with Attorney General Jeff Sessions who wants to crack down on marijuana, calling his efforts “outrageous and unacceptable.”
So what would the bill would do?
Here’s what happens if the bill becomes law:
1.Removes marijuana from the list of controlled substances. This would make marijuana no longer illegal in the eyes of the federal government. That would make it a lot easier for marijuana businesses to use banking services, for example, without fear of running afoul of federal laws.
2. Expunges people who have been convicted for use and possession of marijuana. These kinds of charges follow people for life, Booker notes, making it difficult for them to do things most people take for granted: Opening a new business, qualifying for public housing, getting a new job, or even voting.
For people who are in prison now on marijuana charges, this would would give them an avenue to appeal, and possibly get their sentences reduced, says Booker.
3. Creates incentive for states to change their laws. Booker says because many states enforce marijuana laws in ways that punish poor people and that have a “wildly disproportionate effect on communities of color,” this bill would encourage states to stop enforcing the law in “such an unjust manner.”
“We believe states should be moving in the same way to legalize marijuana, to end racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana laws, and frankly, to end the disproportionate targeting of poor people,” Booker said.
4. Creates a community reinvestment fund. These kinds of funds would help communities that have been disproportionately affected by marijuana laws by allowing them to apply for funds that would help with job training, reentry services, and expenses related to expungement of conviction. It would also invest in community resources like public libraries, community centers, and programs dedicated to youth.