March 13th, 2019
The Marijuana Justice Act was first introduced by 2020 presidential hopeful, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), in August of 2017. The bill is designed to federally decriminalize marijuana while promoting restorative justice for populations that are disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition, such as people of color and low-income communities.
Changes That the Marijuana Justice Act Would Enact
The Marijuana Justice Act would make several important changes if passed into law. Topmost among those changes is that it would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, which would essentially end the federal government’s prohibition of cannabis.
In addition, the act would cut all federal funding for state law enforcement and prison construction in states where low-income and minority populations are being disproportionately arrested and incarcerated for marijuana offenses. It would also allow entities to sue any state that disproportionately arrests and incarcerates marginalized communities for these offenses.
With respect to those who are already incarcerated for marijuana offenses, the bill would provide a process of expungement at the federal level as well as federal resentencing processes for marijuana offenses. Those who are currently incarcerated for marijuana offenses would likely see their case expunged or sentence reduced. Moreover, the bill would prevent anyone with a minor marijuana offense from being deported for it.
In addition to taking punitive action on states, prisons, and law enforcement agencies that disproportionately arrest marginalized communities for marijuana, the bill would create a “Community Reinvestment Fund,” which would allocate funds to rebuild the communities that have been harmed by marijuana prohibition and incarceration.
Booker said of the bill: “The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs, it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals. The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of this unfair, unjust, and failed policy by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances and making it legal at the federal level.”
Impact of Federal Legalization
Federal legalization will minimize several pressing problems and injustices in addition to making access to cannabis easier. For example, nearly half of all drug arrests are for simple marijuana position, and between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million marijuana arrests in the United States. A marijuana arrest can cause difficulty with securing employment, housing, and federal financial aid.
Legalizing marijuana at the federal level could significantly mitigate the opioid crisis, as research suggests that cannabis is an effective treatment for pain with a better safety profile than opiates and less risk for dependence. This crisis is leading to addiction, hospitalization, and death for a growing population. Legal access to marijuana has been associated with a 23% reduction in opioid dependence and abuse-related hospitalizations, as well as 15% fewer opioid treatment admissions.
Federal legalization also has the potential to significantly improve communities. Colorado, for example, is allocating marijuana revenues for social good, distributing $230 million to the Colorado Department of Education between 2015 and 2017. Meanwhile, Washington state dedicates 25% of marijuana profits to substance use disorder treatment, education, and prevention and 55% of cannabis tax revenue to fund basic health plans.
Congressional Support for the Marijuana Justice Act
The Marijuana Justice Act, which was initially cosponsored by Senators Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Ro Khanna (D-CA), in addition to Booker, is garnering increased support from Congress.
Its current cosponsors in the Senate include Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).
The bill also boasts a laundry list of sponsors from the House of Representatives:
- Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA-13)*
- Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA-17)*
- Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18)*
- Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN-9)*
- Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC-At Large)*
- Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-IL-1)*
- Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3)*
- Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL-7)*
- Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO-2)*
- Rep. Hakeem S. Jeffries (D-NY-8)*
- Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-7)*
- Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY-9)*
- Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH-11)*
- Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. (D-NJ-10)*
- Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS-2)*
- Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL-24)*
- Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI-2)*
- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-2)*
- Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD-8)*
- Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ-3)
- Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA-2)
- Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA-9)
- Rep. Luis J. Correa (D-CA-46)
- Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY-14)
- Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-VA-8)
- Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY-12)
- Rep. Alan S. Lowenthal (D-CA-47)
- Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY-5)
- Rep. Ruben J. Kihuen (D-NV-4)
- Rep. Henry “Hank” C. Johnson Jr. (D-GA-4)
- Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO-1)
- Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA-37)
- Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL-20)
- Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO-5)
- Rep. Cedric l. Richmond (D-LA-2)Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30)
- Rep. Janice Schakowsky D. (D-IL-9)
- Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-MD-4)
- Rep. John Lewis (D-GA-5)
- Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH-13)
- Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ-12)
- Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL-4)
*cosponsored initial bill
While the bill has been largely stagnant since its 2017 inception, given its widespread congressional support, including several presidential hopefuls, the 2020 election is likely to bring it back to the forefront of federal policy conversations.
About Kelly Weimert
Kelly is a full-time freelance writer based in Austin, TX. A happy hybrid of geek and hippie, when she’s not nestled into her couch crankin’ out crafty prose with her miscreant Chihuahua, you can find her frolicking outside to keep her sanity in check.
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