On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced game-changing legislation to amend the Controlled Substance Act (CSA). If passed, the bill would eliminate marijuana from the CSA, purge federal marijuana convictions, and punish those states that have cultivated racial inequality via marijuana-related arrests and/or incarceration.
Mindful of the damage done by the ill-conceived decades-long war on drugs, Booker’s bill – otherwise known as the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 – seeks to reverse the harm inflicted on the country’s poor and minority communities.
Similar to legislation introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in 2015, Sen. Booker’s bill would disallow the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from overseeing a national marijuana policy and allow states to set their own laws with regards to marijuana enforcement.
Dissimilar to Sanders’ 2015 bill, Booker’s proposed amendment to the CSA would withhold critical funding from any state that has NOT legalized marijuana and demonstrates racial inequity toward marijuana arrest and incarceration rates.
Sen. Booker took to Facebook Live on Tuesday before introducing his bill to plead his case. In quoting some rather startling facts from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Booker underscored the importance of his legislation and drilled down on the “rank hypocrisy” of today’s War on Drugs.
“A study by the ACLU between 2001-2010, looking at 8 million arrests for drugs, they saw that 88% of them were people being arrested for possession. Overwhelmingly for marijuana.”
Disproportionately affecting youthful minorities, these arrests have lifelong implications, according to Sen. Booker. “So, understand what happens to a person when they’re arrested for marijuana, when they’re convicted for that charge, when they get a felony conviction. What that means is, they have, as according to the American Bar Association, about 40,000 so-called collateral consequences,” and none of them are good. Diminished employment and business opportunities, lack of access to Pell grants (student aid), and those with marijuana conviction on their record can forget about qualifying for public housing or receiving food stamps.
Booker then posed the painful question to his Facebook audience, “Now imagine if those arrests were overwhelmingly concentrated in certain communities?”
No need to “imagine,” the ACLU already did the math. Nationally, the ACLU’s compilation of arrest data indicates a few disturbing trends:
- Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana
- 52% of all drug arrests in 2010 were for marijuana
- In Iowa, Washington DC, Minnesota, and Illinois blacks were 7.5 to 8.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana
- States waste $3,613,969,972 annually enforcing marijuana laws
To underscore the validity of his argument that prohibition leads to poverty, Booker cited a university study that examined The Impact of Mass Incarceration on Poverty. “If we had incarceration rates just like our national and international peers, we would have, probably, about 20% less poverty in this country.”
As a prime example that legalization takes a real “a bite out of crime,” Duke London recently reported on FBI data indicating that violent crime in Washington state was 31% below the national average for 2015.
A win-win for all concerned, Sen. Booker’s bill would provide powerful motivation for states prohibiting marijuana to legalize it, and thereby avoid any potential penalties. While the bill currently stands a snowball’s chance in hell with a Republican-controlled Congress, Booker is strongly considered a frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.