Senate Bill Punishes States For Discriminatory Marijuana Arrests

By Tom Angell | July 31, 2017

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced a far-reaching bill on Tuesday that, if enacted, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and withhold federal funding from states that continue to see racially disproportionate arrest or incarceration rates for cannabis.

The bill, a copy of which was obtained by MassRoots prior to its filing, is called the “Marijuana Justice Act of 2017.” Some of its provisions — namely the ones that remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act — are similar to legislation that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) filed in the last Congress and to a current House bill introduced by Congressman Tom Garrett (R-VA).

But it goes much further than descheduling cannabis. It requires federal courts to “issue an order expunging each conviction for a marijuana use or possession offense entered by the court before” the bill’s enactment.

“Descheduling marijuana and applying that change retroactively to people currently serving time for marijuana offenses is a necessary step in correcting this unjust system,” Booker said in a press release. “States have so far led the way in reforming our criminal justice system and it’s about time the federal government catches up and begins to assert leadership.”

The legislation also provides that any state that “has a disproportionate arrest rate or a disproportionate incarceration rate for marijuana offenses … (A) shall not be eligible to receive any Federal funds for the construction or staffing of a prison or jail; and (B) shall be subject to not more than a 10-percent reduction of the funds that would otherwise be allocated for that fiscal year” for anti-crime grant funding.

The money withheld from states with discriminatory arrest and incarceration rates would go into a new Community Reinvestment Fund, to be used by the secretary of Housing and Urban Development to “establish a grant program to reinvest in communities most affected by the war on drugs, which shall include providing grants to impacted communities for programs” such as job training, libraries, community centers and health education programs.

The legislation authorizes half a billion dollars for the fund for every fiscal year between 2018 and 2040.

Further, the bill would allow people “aggrieved by a disproportionate arrest rate or a disproportionate incarceration rate” to file civil lawsuits against states.

Studies have repeatedly shown that although people of color and whites use marijuana at virtually identical rates, African Americans and Latinos are far more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced for it.

Booker is widely seen as a possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. While his work on criminal justice reform, medical cannabis and other issues has endeared him to many progressives, others are wary of his ties to Wall Street donors and were concerned about a vote he took earlier this year against a Sanders-sponsored amendment on importation of pharmaceutical drugs from Canada.

By taking an even bigger leading role on marijuana — the legalization of which is overwhelmingly supported by Democrats and independents, and in particular younger voters — Booker likely stands to benefit politically by getting in front of an issue of concern for broad swaths of his party’s base but which many other potential presidential candidates are still somewhat reluctant to address.

In a tweet, the senator said the bill would “legalize marijuana at federal level.”

During a Facebook Live video, Booker said that states with legal marijuana “are seeing decreases in violent crime… They’re seeing increases in revenue… They’re seeing their police forces being able to focus their time, energy and resources on serious crime.”

“We believe that states should be moving in the same way, to legalize marijuana,” he said, adding that he has never personally tried cannabis but has close friends who consume it and who have been harmed by workplace drug testing policies.

Booker doesn’t have any original cosponsors signed onto the legislation, his spokesman told MassRoots.

See below for the text of Sen. Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act of 2017:

Tom Angell

Tom Angell is a senior political correspondent for MassRoots. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority and is editor of the daily Marijuana Moment newsletter.

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