While Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues to put the marijuana industry on edge with his recent efforts to clamp down on the “hands off” policies of the Obama-era Department of Justice, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) has introduced an ambitious piece of legislation that would change the landscape of how marijuana is addressed at the federal level.
The Marijuana Justice Act proposed by Senator Booker would remove marijuana from its current classification as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Schedule I drugs are the most serious category of illegal substances – which along with drugs such as heroin, LSD, and MDMA – have the highest potential for abuse and purportedly have no currently accepted medical use. Meanwhile, drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines, and opiods all fall under the Schedule 2 classification and are considered less dangerous under the CSA.
Unlike prior attempts to legalize marijuana and change its classification under the CSA, such as those from Senator Bernie Sanders, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), and Rep. Tom Garrett (R-VA), the Marijuana Justice Act appears to be rooted in social justice and seeks to “retroactively expunge people who have been convicted of use and possession of marijuana,” “[create] incentive[s] for states to change their laws, which will stop them from enforcing the law in an unjust manner,” and “[give] communities devastated by marijuana laws [the ability] to apply for reinvestment funds, to help pay for community centers, public libraries, youth centers, and other infrastructure and social needs.”
Notably, the law would withhold federal funds for law enforcement and prison construction for states that have a disproportionate percentage of minority and low-income individuals arrested for marijuana-related offenses and would create a reinvestment fund for communities most affected by the war on drugs, with grants in areas such as job training, expenses related to the expungement of convictions, public libraries and health education programs.
Whether rooted in progressivism or simply political ambitions for 2020, Senator Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act (which has yet to have a co-sponsor) will face an uphill battle in Congress, despite public support for legalization being at an all-time high. Indeed, notwithstanding its populist appeal, this legislation would leave unanswered a whole host of questions, such as whether the U.S. government would play any role in the regulation of marijuana at the federal level or would leave regulation of marijuana entirely up to the states? What about states which do not yet have their own regulatory framework? What type of marijuana convictions would qualify for expungement?
It is unlikely that these questions will ultimately be answered with the current legislation, but the Marijuana Justice Act could open up further debate about whether marijuana should be declassified as a Schedule I drug under the CSA, which would potentially open doors to medical marijuana research and banking services for those in the marijuana industry.