Democratic Senator Cory Booker is looking to push a bill legalizing the use of marijuana a step further, taking on criminal justice reform in the process.
The bill, which has been introduced on a national level, would declassify the Schedule 1 drug, retroactively expunge marijuana convicts’ records and reduce or eliminate the sentences of current prisoners. It also aims to create a Community Reinvestment Fund that would provide job training and re-entry services, pay expenses related to expungement, and invest in libraries, community centers, and youth programs.
Booker took to Facebook Live on August 1 to make the announcement, indicative of how the bill is by the people, for the people—geared toward supporting an America that has grown weary of strict laws that disproportionately affect black people and poorer communities. In 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union found there have been more than eight million pot arrests between 2001 and 2010, and that black people are nearly four times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.
A recent poll by CNN found that 61 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legalized and more than half the states permit some form of marijuana use. Yet the bill faces a great battle if it is to succeed in a Republican-led Senate and facing the resistance of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a vocal opponent of legalized marijuana. Though medical marijuana is legal across much of the U.S., Sessions regard medical use as an "unhealthy practice” that is still in violation of federal law.
In a statement to Buzzfeed, Taylor West, the deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, agreed that passing the bill will be difficult. “Given the general lack of activity in Congress, it's hard to make predictions about any piece of stand-alone legislation passing,” West said.
Nevertheless, many believe that the focus on criminal justice reform is a step in the right direction. Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, said, "This is the single most far-reaching marijuana bill that’s ever been filed in either chamber of Congress... this is something that more senators should be signing on to right away."
“It’s not enough just to say that it is going to be legalized, let's move forward. This has done serious damage to our communities, serious damage to American families," Booker said on Facebook. "We need to make sure we are not only making it legal on the federal level—and moving states to do the same—and not only ending the racial disparities in incarceration and the targeting of poor people, but trying to do what I call restorative justice—finding ways to take communities who have been disproportionately impacted and helping them to heal, helping them to recover from what has been the unjust application of the law."