New Bill Aims to Legalize Marijuana on a Federal Level

Senator Cory Booker introduced a legislation that will remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances. 

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 09: Elizabeth Owens protests on the steps of New York City Hall in support of the proposed Fairness and Equity Act, which would attempt to reform racially biased arrests in regards to marijuana possession in New York state on July 9, 2014 in New York City. New York State recently passed a new law allowing medical marijuana usage. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

A bill, introduced by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker on Tuesday, would declassify marijuana as a controlled substance, making it legal on a federal level, nationwide.

The bill, titled the Marijuana Justice Act, would remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I substances, where it currently resides, along with drugs like heroin and peyote. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, Schedule I drugs have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

The bill would also provide groundwork for expunging and resentencing federal marijuana offenses, prevent deportations for marijuana charges, and cut federal funding towards law enforcement and prison infrastructure for states with disproportionate marijuana arrest and incarceration rates.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 25: Signage hangs outside +Doctor, a medical marijuana evaluation clinic, which does not distribute marijuana from its facility, is seen on July 25, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles City Council has unanimously voted to ban storefront medical marijuana dispensaries and to order them to close or face legal action. The council also voted to instruct staff to draw up a separate ordinance for consideration in about three months that might allow dispensaries that existed before a 2007 moratorium on new dispensaries to continue to operate. It is estimated that Los Angeles has about one thousand such facilities. The ban does not prevent patients or cooperatives of two or three people to grow their own in small amounts. Californians voted to legalize medical cannabis use in 1996, clashing with federal drug laws. The state Supreme Court is expected to consider ruling on whether cities can regulate and ban dispensaries. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Signage outside of a medical marijuana evaluation clinic.  

Twenty-nine states, as well as Washington, D.C., have already legalized medicinal marijuana. Recreational pot smoking is also legal in eight states and Washington, D.C.

Booker debuted the bill via a live stream on his official Facebook page, where he outlined its contents and fielded questions from commenters. Booker stressed the importance of the bill given the targeting of minorities, poor people, veterans, and the mentally ill in marijuana policing, and the “wildly disproportionate effect” that enforcement has on those vulnerable communities.

Booker has long been a vocal opponent of the War on Drugs and noted disparities in drug policing in his book, United, where he wrote that “the war on drugs has turned out to be a war on PEOPLE — and far too often a war on people of color and the poor.”

Numbers confirm that the current enforcement of marijuana policy is rife with racial bias. Black Americans are 3.7 times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts, according to analysis from the ACLU, and the imprisonment rate for black Americans for drug-related charges is almost six times that of white Americans.

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 17: Inmates at the Cook County Jail watch as fellow inmates compete in a chess tournament online with inmates from the Prison Complex of Viana in Espirito Santo state in Brazil on May 17, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. Inmates from Cook County won the tournament 4.5-3.5. This is the third time the jail has organized international chess competition for its inmates. The Cook County Jail, which houses more than 7,000 inmates, is the largest county jail in the country. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Black Americans are imprisoned at five times the rate of white Americans.

Marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug has also been a strong prohibitive factor in studying its medicinal effects, despite evidence that it can be effective in the treatment of certain cancers, neurological ailments like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, and pain management. Removing marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs would open up more opportunities for scientists to find more medical uses for marijuana.

The federal legalization of medical marijuana could also prove critical in the American opioid epidemic. The Trump-formed Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis issued a report on Monday that called for the president to “declare a state of emergency” based on the severity of opioid addiction nationwide. Multiple studies have demonstrated a correlation between marijuana legalization and a decrease in opioid abuse and overdose.

The Marijuana Justice Act’s path to legalization is not a direct one. Attorney General and Noted Racist Jeff Sessions has gone on record about his desire to crack down on marijuana and expand federal control over state marijuana laws. During the live stream, Booker called Sessions’s opposition to marijuana legalization “outrageous and unacceptable.”

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 20: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions holds a news conference to announce an 'international cybercrime enforcement action' at the Department of Justice July 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump said Wednesday in an interview with the New York Times that he never would have appointed Sessions had he known Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 'Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,' Trump said. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Jeff, buddy, you look a little tense. I think I know something that could help you unwind...

Americans are keener on legal weed than ever before. According to a CBS News poll released in April, 61 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana.

Booker said that at the time of the live stream, the bill currently lacked other sponsors, and urged those watching to contact their representatives to ask them to support the bill.

“I don’t think folks understand that we are all implicated in this broken system,” Booker said. “Your tax dollars are being drained by this war on marijuana.”