Even with all the progress witnessed in the cannabis scene in the last decade, things have always remained grey and blurry. On one hand, Californians are free to use cannabis recreationally while on the other hand the herb remains scheduled and therefore illegal under federal law. It’s been a situation of “you have it, but you still don’t,” much to the disappointment of cannabis activists. As it stands, 33 states have allowed for the medicinal use of cannabis, while 11 states have permitted recreational use as well. Under federal law, the case is different as schedule 1 implies that marijuana has no known medicinal value and has a high potential for abuse. It appears that true success in this filed can only be achieved when state laws and federal laws are in sync, meanwhile, everything else is hogwash.
What is The Marijuana Justice Act?
The Marijuana Justice Act is a bill that was introduced by New Jersey U.S. Senator Cory Booker in 2019. The bill seeks to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and expunge existing cannabis-related criminal records. Back in 2017, the senator had introduced a similar bill that failed to advance past the senate.
In one of Booker’s tweets, he says:
The failed War on Drugs has really been a war on people—disproportionately criminalizing poor people, people of color & people with mental illness. I’m reintroducing the #MarijuanaJustice Act to begin reversing our failed federal drug policies.”
Should the Marijuana Justice Act sail through, cannabis enthusiasts will have cause for celebration as this would mean the final collapse of the “Berlin Wall.” This would legalize marijuana on a nation-wide scale and remove obstacles for vendors and purveyors across the US. People with criminal records linked to marijuana will also “go scot-free”; existing criminal records will be expunged while anyone currently incarcerated for the offense will be able to petition for an immediate re-sentencing.
The bill has been co-sponsored by Democratic California Representatives Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna. A key issue raised by the supporters is the disproportionate impact of cannabis prohibitionist laws on historically oppressed nationalities and communities across the United States. This has led to the prosecution and jailing of largely nonviolent cannabis users.
In a statement to NORML, Lee said:
“In addition to incentivizing states to legalize marijuana, the Marijuana Justice Act seeks to repair some of the damage marijuana prohibition has done to this country’s most vulnerable communities. For those communities that have been economically and socially disenfranchised by overcriminalization and cyclical incarceration, this legislation provides funding to programs focused on youth development, citizen re-entry, job training, health education, and funding for community resources such as public libraries and community centers.”
Statistics from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) revealed that there were over eight million marijuana-related offenses in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010, of this 88 % were related to marijuana possession. The study also found that African Americans were more likely to be arrested for non-violent cannabis-related crimes and get convicted and incarcerated.
Yet another report by the Drug Policy Alliance published in 2018 revealed that African Americans are more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession, even in states where marijuana had been legalized. This makes it clear that marijuana laws or the implementation have been biased against minority groups, and even state legalization has not changed this.
Multiple cannabis bills have made their way through the U.S. House and Senate in the recent past. Some of these efforts have contributed to where we are today, and this cannot be undermined. It seems like we are in the final stretch, which is hardest to complete but holds a lot of promise.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who is also co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus, says that she’s ‘cautiously optimistic’ her Republican colleagues will get out of the way of, if not fully support, legislative efforts to reform cannabis laws. In her words as expressed to Cheddar;
“I’m, cautiously optimistic that they ー I won’t say support us and what we’re doing ー but that they will leave us alone and let us get those bills to the president’s desk.”
She went farther to state that Republicans are seemingly coming around to support the Marijuana Justice Act of 2019.
“I think [Republicans] are coming around because they don’t want to see unjust laws in many ways that are disproportionately affecting a huge number of Americans. And so it’s going to take a while … but I think it’s going to pass. It’s just going to take a little more pressure on members of Congress,” she said.
With all the harnessed progressive efforts through the years, it’s no surprise that we are here today. The Marijuana Justice Act may or may not sail through, but it is definitely among the significant blows that will bring an end to the cannabis dark era.
- Congress.gov: The Marijuana Justice Act. Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/597/all-info
- NORML (2019): Rep. Lee: I Just Introduced The Marijuana Justice Act. Retrieved from https://blog.norml.org/2019/02/28/rep-lee-i-just-introduced-the-marijuana-justice-act/
- VOX (2018): After legalization, black people are still arrested at higher rates for marijuana than white people. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/1/29/16936908/marijuana-legalization-racial-disparities-arrests