Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) on Tuesday introduced legislation that ends federal marijuana prohibition of marijuana and centers communities most devastated by the war on drugs.
“The question is no longer ‘should we legalize marijuana?’; it is ‘how do we legalize marijuana?’ We must do so in a way that recognizes that the people who suffered most under prohibition are the same people who should benefit most under legalization,” said Queen Adesuyi, policy associate at the Drug Policy Alliance. “From disparate marijuana-related arrests and incarceration rates to deportations and justifications for police brutality – the war on drugs has had disparate harm on low-income communities and communities of color. It’s time to rectify that.”
The Marijuana Justice Act would do the following:
- Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, ending federal prohibition of marijuana
- Cut federal funding for state law enforcement and prison construction if a state disproportionately arrests and/or incarcerates low-income individuals and/or people of color for marijuana offenses
- Allow entities to sue states that disproportionately arrest and/or incarcerate low-income individuals and/or people of color for marijuana offenses
- Prevent deportations of individuals for marijuana offenses
- Provide for a process of expungement for marijuana offenses at the federal level
- Provide for a process of resentencing for marijuana offenses at the federal level
- Create a “Community Reinvestment Fund” of $500 million to invest in communities most impacted by the war on drugs, for programs such as job training, reentry, community centers, and more. Part of the funding will come from the aforementioned cuts to state law enforcement and prison construction.
“In New Jersey, marijuana prohibition has disproportionately harmed communities of color,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “In our state, African Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites even though both use marijuana at similar rates. Anecdotal evidence suggests similar disparities for Latinos. Marijuana legalization on the federal and state level must be fair and equitable and must repair past harms to communities of color. It is time to right the wrongs of prohibition.”
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Marijuana is legal in eight states, and medical marijuana is legal in twenty-nine states. Nevertheless, it has been estimated that only one percent of dispensary owners are people of color. A landmark 2013 ACLU report showed that despite similar rates of use and sale with white counterparts, African Americans and Latinos comprised nearly 80 percent of the country’s annual marijuana possession arrests.
More recently, racial disparities in marijuana arrests have continued in states like New York, Virginia, and Massachusetts. Racial disparities have even continued in places that legalized marijuana, like Colorado (although overall arrests are down) and Washington, D.C. (mostly because Congress has blocked legal sales). This bill will tackle these issues.
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“Ending federal marijuana prohibition would bring the law in line with the opinion of the growing majority of Americans who want states to be able to enact their own marijuana laws without harassment by the DEA. By divesting in prisons and reinvesting in job training and re-entry programs, this bill would move our country forward and prioritize building up our communities,” said attorney Shaleen Title, a founding board member of the Minority Cannabis Business Association and founder of THC Staffing Group.