Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he would get rid of a longstanding “hands-off” policy that for years restricted federal agents and funds from going after states with legal weed. Now, pro-legalization lawmakers are responding to his attempts to start a federal crackdown on state-legal weed. On Wednesday, a group of House Democrats introduced The Marijuana Justice Act.
This bill would dramatically change federal cannabis laws. But what exactly is The Marijuana Justice Act? And why is it so important?
What Is The Marijuana Justice Act?
The bill was introduced this week to the House by Representatives Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna, both from California. It is the House version of a bill introduced last fall in the Senate by New Jersey’s Senator Cory Booker.
When Sen. Booker first introduced The Marijuana Justice Act last August, it was hailed as “the single most far-reaching marijuana bill that’s ever been filed in either chamber of Congress.”
And for good reason. This bill goes way beyond simply making cannabis legal.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most important parts of The Marijuana Justice Act:
- It calls for the federal legalization of cannabis.
- The bill would expunge all federal convictions for possessing or using cannabis.
- It would earmark $500 million for a “community reinvestment fund.” This money would provide job training. Most of the funds would go into communities that have had disproportionately high numbers of weed arrests.
- The Marijuana Justice Act would also cut federal funds for law enforcement and prison construction in states where weed arrests have disproportionately affected people of color or poor people.
Why Is The Marijuana Justice Act Important?
The Marijuana Justice Act is important because it goes beyond legalization. It is an attempt to somehow account for the harm done by decades of a heavy-handed war on drugs. In particular, it is an attempt to account for the disproportionate harm experienced by people of color.
“We intend to end this destructive war on drugs, and this legislation will do that,” Rep. Lee said at a press conference this week. “It’s a roadmap for ending the drug war, but it also begins to address mass incarceration and disinvestment in communities of color. It is an essential step to correcting the injustices of the failed war on drugs, namely racial disparities in arrest and incarceration.”
The racial component of the war on drugs—and especially the war on weed—is well documented.
A study published by the ACLU found that, at the national level, black and white people consume weed at roughly at the same rates. Despite that, black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.
In at least 15 states that number is even higher. In some states, black people are over eight times more likely to be arrested for weed possession than whites.
The ramifications of this disparity are far-reaching. Obviously, these convictions mean that, on average, people of color spend more time locked up and away from family, friends, and community than white folks.
Depending on the state and the severity of the charge, these convictions can also cut people off from a variety of public assistance programs. This can include access to housing and education.
Similarly, Rep. Khanna estimated that the amount of time black people spend incarcerated for weed charges equates to “hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic potential.”
And the list goes on and on.
Final Hit: The Marijuana Justice Act Is A Big Deal
All things considered, The Marijuana Justice Act is an attempt to accomplish two main things.
The first is to make weed legal. By legalizing cannabis at the federal level, this bill would get rid of one of the war on drugs’ biggest tools for targeting people of color.
This bill also attempts to make some sort of restitution for the harm already caused by the war on drugs—especially the harm disproportionately experienced by people and communities of color.
The big question now is whether or not this bill has a chance of passing into law. The House bill that was introduced this week has 12 Democratic cosponsors. But so far, no Republicans have signed on.