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Booker Debuts ‘Marijuana Justice Act’ to Legalize Cannabis

August 1, 2017
(Seth Wenig/AP)
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced legislation earlier today that would end federal cannabis prohibition and begin to repair some of the lasting damage done by the war on drugs.

'I believe the federal government should get out of the illegal marijuana business.'
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)

“I believe the federal government should get out of the illegal marijuana business,” Booker said. “You see what’s happening around this country right now. Eight states and the District of Columbia have moved to legalize marijuana. And these states are seeing decreases in violent crime in their states. They’re seeing increases in revenue to their states. They’re seeing their police forces being able to focus on serious crime. They’re seeing positive things come out of that experience.”

Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act would:

  • 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.

Not Just Legalization; Reparations Too

Booker’s proposal is especially strong on the social justice angle. “I have seen young teenagers getting arrested, saddled with criminal convictions for the rest of their lives,” Booker said during a Facebook Live event that followed the introduction of the bill. When a person is convicted of a felony marijuana charge, “they have to deal with about 40,000 collateral consequences. They can’t get business licenses, Pell Grants, public housing, food stamps.” Booker added that in some states, a person with a single marijuana conviction is barred from receiving a taxi license.

Here is Booker’s Facebook Live session earlier today:

“These marijuana arrests are targeting poor and minority communities,” Booker added, “they’re targeting our veterans. We see the injustice of it all.” When people of color are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, when poor communities are targeted for marijuana enforcement while wealthy white people suffer none of the same oppression, Booker said, “you severely impact communities economically, you create crises in families, you hurt people’s long term economic potential.”

Booker mentioned his own experience observing the well-off enjoying cannabis with little or no risk of arrest. A similar dynamic happened during alcohol prohibition, he said. “If you were connected or elected, you could overcome alcohol prohibition. It’s the same thing now. I saw this at Stanford and Yale.” The privileged, he said, faced almost no threat from law enforcement.

The Marijuana Justice Act creates incentives for states to change their cannabis laws and stop enforcing existing laws in an unjust manner. It also includes mechanisms for people incarcerated for marijuana crimes to appeal to the courts to have their sentences reduced or eliminated. The bill also contains mechanisms for the expungement of past cannabis arrests and convictions.

“This bill creates a community reinvestment fund so that communities disproportionately affected by the unjust application of marijuana laws,” Booker said. “Those communities can apply for funds for job training, public libraries, community centers, and programs dedicated to youth.”

Moving From ‘Should’ to ‘How’

Drug reform advocates around the country applauded the introduction of the bill.

“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.”

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri applauded the “robust legislation” for providing “a path forward for the individuals and communities that were most disproportionately targeted by our nation’s failed war on marijuana consumers.”

Booker is a longtime drug reform advocate who has been a primary co-sponsor of the CARERS Act (Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS), a bill focused largely on medical marijuana. The CARERS Act, which was re-introduced in June 2017, would provide federal protection to patients in states with medical cannabis programs, and expand cannabis research opportunities nationwide.

As of today, the bill has no co-sponsors. “This is one of those issues where it’s not about if we end the prohibition of marijuana,” Booker said. “It’s about when. Please help me make that time now.”

Leafly will continue to report this story as it develops today. 

Bruce Barcott's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

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  • Silverado

    Oh the drug warrior zealot Chris Christie won’t approve of this. It’s hard to believe that these two, Booker and Christie are from the same state. Although personally I detest them both, Booker for his left wing approach to everything political and Christie for his always wrong right winged slant on everything to do with cannabis. It doesn’t take much digging to not like either of these two Big gov’t miscreants.

    • familyguy

      I like Booker’s views on cannabis! Its time to forget about political parties and pass some sensible bipartisan legislation. That may be the country’s best hope for unifying our nation.

    • Allie

      Booker submitted now, August of 2017, with plans to hit gov’t just as Chris Christie slides out of office in Jan. of 2018. A long time to wait? Not so very long, when you consider how long people have waited in the first place. It surprised the hell out of me to find out I do qualify under an amendment that Christie did sign, that he has signed bills allowing medical marijuana – in September of 2016, Chris Christie signed a bill into law that added even more conditions for the medical marijuana program.
      I hate the guy too and I don’t understand his intentions with these things… I guess currying favor with veterans with PTSD… He didn’t have to sign that one for it to become law, yet he made a bit of a production out of it.

      Regardless, Christie could kick back new bills or acts such as this one, but I’m betting that whoever comes to replace him as governor will get things um, rolling (no pun intended). It is a perfect time for NJ to have proposals ready to go. This is a national news story, but maybe Booker will come in handy with expansion of New Jersey’s MMP first. A LOT of expansion. We can hope.

  • Jay Lock

    Okay, I agree. Legalize MJ and if someone has a simple conviction for possession it should be removed from their record. However, if someone has a felony conviction for a serious crime related to MJ it says on their record. Individuals using MJ is not going to stop and the feds and state SBI will not stop usage of MJ. Time to move on and stop wasting police resources on this issue.

    • Ryan Corke

      What exactly would constitute a “serious crime related to MJ”? Large scale weed trafficking for gangs or cartels? That is about all I could possibly think of in that context, not very many serious crimes are committed strictly due to marijuana alone.

    • Christopher Van Zetta

      Most judges gave minor possessions a 6 month period to seal the case if no other misdemeanors were committed. I have a few friends that had UPM’s (Unlawful Possession of Marijuana) charges sealed due to this. It’s called an ACD. But yes, minor possion charges has and will ruin a persons career due to discrimination so we either SEAL the case or stop the discriminaton.

  • cinderabi

    God speed the progress of the process & God bless this brave individual and his amazing courage to undertake something that is making many of us consider relocation from our home states to one of the “free states” just so we can live high & happy in our golden years without being considered criminals. If one can enjoy a craft beer without prosecution or persecution what makes munching a cannabis cookie such a crime?

    • kristine08

      Bob Marley would be so proud~

      • cinderabi

        ;=) snoop dog, too, perhaps! 🙂

  • Rob Woodside

    Finally we are seeing reasonable legalization bills rather than mindless “just give them a ticket” decriminalization. Sadly I don’t think the republican monkeys that run all three branches of government can ever accomplish anything. They’ve been so hard at work for the last 7 years at repealing and replacing Obamacare that they haven’t had a chance to do much else. It is a real shame to see good attempts at good laws just fade away and never even get to the floor for debate or vote. Can you imagine Mitch McConnel.ever bringing Cory’s bill to a vote?

  • kristine08

    Standing ovation. Never mind that people are using marijuana to wean off the Opiates we were prescribed.
    It surely helped me wean down following (2) lumbar fusions, 15 months apart.
    I could have never done it without the medical marijuana program I qualified for in Connecticut.
    People going to prison for a couple “doobies” is ridiculous.
    BTW:, we should be able to grow a dozen plants, for those that find the program unaffordable.
    It IS pretty pricey to pay the physician fee ($150.00 every year) plus the $100.00/year fee,to Dept of Consumer Protection.

  • Chico The Man

    Legalize now! We The People’s demand legalization and stop wasting our tax money!

  • Shoreline1

    It’s hard to believe that in America, the land of the free, only one of our elected representatives has this position. Of course, where the heads of our other elected representatives are it’s hard to breath, I’m sure. And if they are this far off-base on this subject, what else are they completely completely off-base? Saddam and Osama combined has not done this much damage to our country. I cannot be patriotic, I cannot support this government.

  • Tonya Masters

    Excellent! A standing applause is in order, finally we have someone that has the b#&ls to stand up and propose a move that will benefit not only individuals but the United States itself. The endless possiblities and opportunities it would create is astronomical, from convicted and incarcerated citizens to be set free and their records expunged to the tax revanue, and reduction of the national deficit that doubled in eight years due to a mismanaged spendthrift also known as Barack Obama. Many convicted on marijuana charges have spent more time behind bars than convicted rapist & murderers, the question remains the same, why? Look at the prohibition of alcohol, many were opposed to the idea of legalization, many still are, but look at the drop in violent crimes, along with business opportunities & jobs that were created overnight and still flourishing today. Alcohol has caused numerous deaths and a magnitude of health problems through the years from alcohol poisoning and complications of long-term use. Marijuana on the other hand hasn’t contributed in a single overdose death or terminal health problems compared alcohol consumption. I personally have smoked for over three decades and own a house, vehicles, a full time skilled trade, two children with a + 160 IQ and no serious health or termanal illnesses. What is not to like about marijuana?

    • Tonya has brought up many good points on the over all out look on the legalization of marijuana. Speaking from my personal experience on the daily use of marijuana, I too have been consuming marijuana on a daily basis since 1974. I lived in central Kansas and by 1976 I knew of more places to purchase marijuana than alcohol which includes liquor stores, bars, clubs, supermarkets, convenient stores, and full service gas stations. Then it became the “Public Enemy #1” and classified as a Schedule 1 drug. Maybe I’m the only one that looks at it like this, but shouldn’t alcohol be under that category instead of marijuana? Hasn’t the consumption of alcohol killed more Americans than the number of casualties combined in all the wars we’ve fought including the Vietnam Conflict since the prohibition in the 1920’s? Alcohol poisoning alone kills thousands every year compared to the number of marijuana overdose deaths which still stands at ZERO.

      • Ima Straight

        Alcohol is extremely profitable. Now that many prisons are for-profit as well, we will have the drug war continue. The US already tried alcohol prohibition and created organized crime. Same thing with other drugs. History shows that human beings always have and always will seek to alter their mental mind set through substances.

    • Ima Straight

      If your IQ is so high, then why are you parroting lies about President Obama’s economic record and posting your hooters? Pathetic.

  • Gail Hines

    Sen. Cory Booker for President! His office helped me with Obamacare and now some sanity for NJ. Support this brave Senator! I’m calling his office now to praise his efforts. It appears that there is sup port from both democrats and republicans.

  • Brad

    Note: He currently has no co sponsors to the bill or any other representatives or senators supporting him. Im sure yall can all write novels on here saying the same thing he said, but it really doesnt matter if the bill doesnt get support by other representatives and senators. Are you going to sit back, post your feelings on a biased forum and continue on with your day, or are you going to call/email your local representatives and encourage your friends to do the same?

  • Barbara H
    Budinski: Handmade Odor Proof Storage Read Reviews http://www.mybudinski Did I mention Free Shipping in Continental US

  • Ralph

    Finally! a government official that’s not afraid to tell the truth about the epic failed war on a plant. Bravo! The only thing that needs to happen now is to get some of the elected officials to start wearing nascar jackets so everyone will know what major corporation is sponsoring them to push their agenda

  • C. Brown

    It sounds like a good plan…..but lets also look at the past just a little and not get so ahead of ourselves, Mr. Booker is in the pockets of Big Pharma ( just last year he voted against U.S. citizens getting cheaper medicine from our Canadian neighbors). With that being said his $ sponsors must have a hand in this current proposal….which leads me to think that Big Pharma plans to flood the market with GMO marijuana under the disguise of criminal reform and freedom of use

  • Chimp Daddy

    Beautiful piece of legislation, Mr. Booker. Your Facebook Live Session is a powerful presentation. I hope and pray that you can get your peers on board. The damage done to the nation as a whole is absolutely horrendous. I think that the hypocrisy of Mr. Sessions’ proposal to return to the “Just Say No” is your (our) biggest hurdle in getting this passed.
    Godspeed, Mr. Booker.

  • Jack Glenn

    This is surely a heartening news. Legalization of marijuana at the federal level will kill the black market market and regulate the system between the states. Large scale cartels gangs will vanish, and teenagers will not be shoved into the cells due to smoking MJ. This process will lead to more funding at the federal level for clinical trials of medicinal effects of marijuana. If fully passed, more studies will help in improved understanding of medical cannabis use and people will have a better alternative for many debilitating conditions.

  • ValWiggin83

    Let’s give this guy as much support as we can. This is a great idea!

  • I applaud Senator Booker’s efforts. I will start to hope when I see a Republican Senator cosponsor such legislation. Marijuana Justice Act has little chance of going anywhere with our current Congress.

    • Kelly

      Can you imagine how this country would be if Bernie was president? Bills like this could actually have a chance. Thanks to voters for electing the reefer madness party. Hopefully Dems can take back the House and Senate next year.

  • Ed

    As nice as this sounds I HIGHLY doubt this bill won’t die in some committee somewhere like 95% of all bills introduced do. If it even does make it to the floor to vote the odds of all these “small government” republicans letting it pass is slim. Good luck to Corey Booker though.