Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey has introduced legislation to legalize recreational marijuana nationwide. The bill would not only end the federal prohibition on cannabis, it would also incentivize states and localities to legalize the Schedule 1 drug and to expunge all marijuana-related criminal charges.
On Aug. 1, Booker announced Aug. 1 his new Marijuana Justice Act, which, if signed into law, would mark a dramatic turnaround for marijuana policy in the U.S. The New Jersey senator asserted that the legislation would be an impactful step towards criminal justice reform.
"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 stated on his official Facebook page. "The effects of the drug war have had a disproportionately devastating impact on Americans of color and the poor."
Booker asserted that his bill "will legalize marijuana at the federal level and go even further in an effort to remedy many of the failures of the War on Drugs."
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Marijuana is currently listed as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning that its production and sale carries the same legal severity as heroin or other narcotics. The Marijuana Justice Act would amend the Controlled Substances Act and remove that designation on a federal level.
"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," Booker said in a separate statement, according to The Hill.
The legislation would also provide a financial incentive for states and localities to decriminalize marijuana. If signed into law, the bill would allow the Justice Department to deny localities federal funding for their prisons if they determine that their cannabis laws disproportionately penalize low-income people or racial minorities.
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The leftover federal funding would then be invested into providing job training and community centers to communities determined to be disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs.
The bill would also retroactively expunge cannabis-related convictions nationwide and grant Americans imprisoned for marijuana to petition for a reduced sentence.
Marijuana Majority founder Tom Angell praised Booker's bill, asserting that its scope was unprecedented.
"This is the single most far-reaching bill that's ever been filed in either chamber of Congress," Angell said in a statement, according to Vox. "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."
Booker's bill would face an uphill climb in Congress. The majority of the New Jersey senator's peers have been publicly against marijuana legalization and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been a staunch opponent of any measure to decriminalize cannabis.
In April 2016, Sessions asserted when he was still an Alabama senator that moral people did not indulge in marijuana, The Washington Post reports.
Sessions stated "this drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it's not something to laugh about... good people don't smoke marijuana."
In October 2016, a Gallup annual survey found that 60 percent of national adults believed that marijuana should be legal.