5 Ways Cory Booker's Marijuana Bill Could Radically Reshape America

The New Jersey senator introduced a bill that does more than just legalize marijuana.



On Tuesday afternoon, Cory Booker went live on Facebook to announce a new bill that could have huge implications for United States citizens: the Marijuana Justice Act.

The bill does more than just potentially legalize marijuana — it sets out to make up for years of racial discrimination in the prosecution of marijauna laws. Here are five ways this law could have a huge effect on America as we know it.

5. States would have the ability to make their own laws on the matter.

First, the bill would de-schedule marijuana, meaning it'd no longer be illegal at the federal level. That's big news for individual states, which would get total control over their marijuana laws. (Currently, although a number of states have made steps towards the decriminalization and legalization of the substance, federal investigators still have the legal authority to raid local cannabis businesses and seize their assets.)

"I believe the federal government should get out of the illegal marijuana business," Booker said in his Facebook live announcement. "It concerns me that AG Jeff Sessions is not moving as these states are."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has compared the negative effects of marijuana to heroin and has alluded to the idea that he might crack down on states where marijuana has been legalized. But Sen. Booker took an almost opposite approach: he said that preliminary reports show legal marijuana actually has a positive effect on the opioid crisis and spoke about veterans he's met who hope to use the drug to treat their PTSD.

Mobile, Alabama - 12/17/2016: Alabama Senator and incoming US Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks to the crowd with US President-elect Donald J. Trump at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Mobile, Alabama - 12/17/2016: Alabama Senator and incoming US Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks to the crowd with US President-elect Donald J. Trump at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Brad McPherson

4. People with marijuana-related convictions would get a second chance.

One of the most important and revolutionary parts of Sen. Booker's legislation is that it would retroactively expunge the criminal records of anyone who was arrested for a marijuana offense. This language in the bill is especially unique, and according to Sen. Booker, would have positive effects on the communities who are harmed by draconian marijuana laws.

"These are charges that follow people for the rest of their lives making it difficult for them to do things we take for granted like applying for a taxi cab license," Sen. Booker said in his Facebook video.

The disparities in marijuana arrests by race have been well-documented. One National Development and Research Institutes 

study that looked at New York City over the span of 23 years demonstrated the effects of this disparity:

"Of note, most [marijuana in public view] MPV arrestees have been black or Hispanic," the authors of the study wrote. "Furthermore, black and Hispanic MPV arrestees have been more likely to be detained prior to arraignment, convicted, and sentenced to jail than their white counterparts."

The ACLU has an entire section dedicated to this disparity on its website, titled "The War On Marijuana In Black And White." It found that between 2001 and 2010, more than 8 million people were arrested for marijuana offenses — or one bust every 37 seconds. Despite marijuana use amongst blacks and whites being almost identical, black Americans were 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses.

3. States would be incentivized to change laws shown to disproportionately affect people of color.

Speaking of those arrest disparities, Booker wants to incentivize states to change the way they criminalize pot, too. To do that, his bill would give federal funds to states who move to alter their marijuana laws if their current system disproportionately targets people of color. The bill would also allow the federal government to cut funds for law enforcement in states that continue to disproportionately arrest people of color for marijuana offenses. 

"The question is no longer 'should we legalize marijuana?'; it is 'how do we legalize marijuana?'" Queen Adesuyi, associate at the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. "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."

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