As we covered here, Jeff Sessions is no friend to the cannabis industry. In February, Sessions announced the formation of the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety pursuant to Trump’s executive order of the same name. Among other things, Sessions is hoping to find a link to state legalized marijuana markets and violent crimes. Sessions asked for initial recommendations from the task force no later than July 27th, 2017. As of the posting of this blog, the DOJ has not released those recommendations, if made, to the public. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), even sent a letter to Sessions demanding the release of those recommendations stating that they could “have dramatic and wide-ranging consequences for Americans’ daily lives.” Regardless of the outcome of those recommendations, the existence of the task force alone has reform advocates fearing that a marijuana enforcement crackdown lies ahead.

It is no coincidence that news of legislation, sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), broke five days after recommendations from the task force were due. Booker, in an interview with The Hill, called Sessions “one of the greatest threats to the safety of our local communities in America,” fearing a federal crackdown, stating, “if you try to start prosecuting marijuana… you create more violence and more danger… [and] ultimately go to the core of the safety of our communities.” Enter the Marijuana Justice Act, a bill that would:

  • Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, fully decriminalizing marijuana.
  • Cut federal funding for state law enforcement and prison infrastructure, if a state is found to have laws that disproportionately affect low income individuals and people of color for marijuana offenses.
  • Retroactively provide a means of expungement or resentencing for marijuana offenses at the federal level.
  • Create a Community Reinvestment Fund, funded in part from the cuts to state law enforcement and prison dollars, to invest in communities most impacted by the War on Drugs, for programs such as job training, youth programming, and community centers.

This is a fresh and welcome approach to marijuana reform that recognizes the disparate impacts of the War on Drugs, aiming to rectify some of the effects it has had on low-income communities and communities of color.

In the end, the title match in marijuana reform likely will not be between Sessions and Booker. The Marijuana Justice Act will be very difficult to pass. There are many members of the War on Drug’s old guard still sitting in Congress. Even with support of freshman republicans, discussed here, a GOP held Congress is a huge road block in the passage of any legislation related to marijuana reform. If reform proponents in Congress cannot pass legislation providing access to banking or tax equity, they certainly will not be able to pass legislation resulting in wholesale decriminalization. Even so, while unlikely, imagine Trump being the president that signs Booker’s bill into law, ending federal prohibition of marijuana… strange times indeed. Silver-lining? This bill could pass. Even if it does not, the bill draws attention to certain inequities that Congress needs to address and is further proof of the changing of the tides regarding Congressional attention to marijuana reform.