Two weeks after Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened a crackdown on state-sanctioned marijuana programs in January, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif., pictured above), along with 18 cosponsors, introduced the Marijuana Justice Act into the House of Representatives. The bill is the most comprehensive piece of legislation ever introduced to end federal cannabis prohibition, and it also addresses the egregious harms it has wrought, particularly on marginalized communities.
It’s also the first time companion measures to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act have been introduced in both chambers of Congress. The Senate version of the Marijuana Justice Act, introduced in 2017 by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), provides relief for people either convicted or currently incarcerated for federal cannabis crimes, by creating a national program to expunge their criminal records.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, African Americans are arrested four times as often as whites for marijuana offenses, although both races consume cannabis at roughly the same rate. One of the ways the Marijuana Justice Act would work to reverse this disparity is by monitoring the states that choose not to legalize cannabis. If any state does not reduce the racial disparity in pot-arrest rates, it would lose various federal funding streams, including for prison construction.
The bill would also allow all federal inmates serving time for sales and possession of marijuana to petition the courts for resentencing. Though this would affect only the relatively small number of individuals in federal prison, it would set a national precedent on how to deal with nonviolent marijuana offenders in local and state correctional facilities, as would the expungement program.
“In the wake of Attorney General Sessions’ decision to rescind the Cole memo, it’s clear that the Trump Administration is doubling down on unjust marijuana-criminalization policies,” Rep. Lee commented on Jan. 17. “Now, it’s up to Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition and help the victims of the failed War on Drugs rebuild their lives. The Marijuana Justice Act is a bold proposal to reverse decades of discriminatory drug enforcement and to bring federal marijuana policy in line with the wishes of the American people.”
Send a message to your federal lawmakers in support of the Marijuana Justice Act as well as other pending legislation here.
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