Marijuana Justice Act of 2019 Would Legalize Marijuana at Federal Level
“Legalizing marijuana is the smart thing to do and the right thing to do in order to advance justice and equality for every American.”
A bill known as the Marijuana Justice Act which was first introduced in 2017 by U.S. Senator Cory Booker to legalize marijuana at the federal level was reintroduced on February 28, 2019, by Booker and Rep. Barbara Lee, Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and Rep. Ro Khanna.
The bill is cosponsored in the Senate by Senators Ron Wyden, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Jeff Merkley, Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bennet.
What Would the Marijuana Justice Act do?
The Marijuana Justice Act of 2019 would remove marijuana from the classified substances list and make it legal at the federal level. The bill would also retroactively expunge the convictions of marijuana-related crimes at the federal level following a judge’s review, something cities around the country including Denver, San Francisco and Chicago have begun to do.
The 2019 Marijuana Justice Act comes as support for legalizing marijuana spreads across the country and more states sign on to legalize medical and recreational marijuana. In fact, a majority of states (thirty-three) and Washington D.C. have legalized medical marijuana and ten states plus D. C. have legalized recreational marijuana.
Texas has introduced a series of medical marijuana-related bills that suggest it may be the next to join the list of states with legalized medical marijuana. The New Mexico House voted Thursday night to legalize recreational marijuana which if passed in the Senate would make it the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.
The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the controlled substances list and moved it instead to the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture, making it an agricultural commodity rather than a controlled substance. Hemp growers will now be able to participate in USDA programs including programs to certify products as “organic.”
Decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level and removing it from the controlled substances list would drastically reform the criminal and penal landscape of the U.S.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, over $47 billion is spent annually in the U.S. on the war on drugs and the number of drug arrests that were for possession only in 2017 was 1,394,514. Of those arrests, the number of people arrested for a marijuana law violation in 2017 was 659,700.
A marijuana conviction can also mean a lifetime of shut doors as scholarships, loans, jobs and housing suddenly become out of reach with a marijuana conviction. The Drug Policy Alliance says over 200,000 students have lost federal financial aid eligibility due to a drug conviction.
Legalizing marijuana federally would also mean an influx of tax revenue – $58 billion per year if marijuana were taxed at rates similar to tobacco and alcohol.
Legislators Speak Out in Support of Marijuana Justice Act
“The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs, it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals,” said Booker. “The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of this unfair, unjust, and failed policy by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances and making it legal at the federal level.”
“Millions of Americans’ lives have been devastated because of our broken marijuana policies, especially in communities of color and low-income communities,” said Gillibrand. “Currently, just one minor possession conviction can take away a lifetime of opportunities for jobs, education, and housing, tear families apart, and make people more vulnerable to serving time in jail down the road. It is shameful that my son would likely be treated very differently from one of his Black or Latino peers if he was caught with marijuana, and legalizing marijuana is an issue of morality and social justice. I’m proud to work with Senator Booker on this legislation to help fix decades of injustice caused by our nation’s failed drug policies.”
“As I said during my 2016 campaign, hundreds of thousands of people are arrested for possession of marijuana every single year,” said Sanders. “Many of those people, disproportionately people of color, have seen their lives negatively impacted because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That has got to change. We must end the absurd situation of marijuana being listed as a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin. It is time to decriminalize marijuana, expunge past marijuana convictions and end the failed war on drugs.”
“Marijuana laws in this country have not been applied equally, and as a result we have criminalized marijuana use in a way that has led to the disproportionate incarceration of young men of color. It’s time to change that,” said Harris. “Legalizing marijuana is the smart thing to do and the right thing to do in order to advance justice and equality for every American.”
“Marijuana should be legalized, and we should wipe clean the records of those unjustly jailed for minor marijuana crimes. By outlawing marijuana, the federal government puts communities of color, small businesses, public health and safety at risk,” said Warren.
The Marijuana Justice Act would also use federal funds to incentivize states to change their marijuana laws if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate impact on communities of color or low-income areas. Additionally, a community fund would be created to reinvest in communities most severely impacted by the “failed War on Drugs” with job training programs, re-entry services and community centers.