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Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and several of his rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination joined forces on Feb. 28, 2019, to re-file a new version of the most far-reaching marijuana legislation ever introduced in Congress.

The bill, the Marijuana Justice Act, would remove cannabis from the Federal Controlled Substances Act and withhold certain federal funding from states that enforce marijuana criminalization laws disproportionately against people of color and low-income individuals.

The legislation would also automatically expunge past federal convictions for cannabis use and possession, as well as create a fund to reinvest in communities hardest hit by the war on drugs.

“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,” Booker said in a press release. “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.

“But it's not enough to simply decriminalize marijuana. We must also repair the damage caused by reinvesting in those communities that have been most harmed by the War on Drugs,” he said in the statement. “And we must expunge the records of those who have served their time. The end we seek is not just legalization, it's justice.”

But it's not enough to simply decriminalize marijuana. We must also repair the damage caused by reinvesting in those communities that have been most harmed by the War on Drugs Click To Tweet

The legislation is initially cosponsored by fellow Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Michael Bennet of Colorado, as well as independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is also vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna of California will lead a House companion bill.

“Communities of color and low-income communities have been devastated by the War on Drugs,” Lee said in a statement. “As Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, I'm proud to sponsor legislation that would legalize marijuana at the federal level, address the disproportionate impact of prohibition on people of color by expunging criminal convictions, and promote equitable participation in the legal marijuana industry by investing in the communities hardest hit by the failed War on Drugs.”

“Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by misguided marijuana policy for far too long,” Khanna said in the statement. “Rep. Lee, Sen. Booker, and I are proud to introduce this important legislation and deliver justice for so many Americans.”

The funds withheld from states deemed to have discriminatory arrest and incarceration rates for cannabis would go toward a new community reinvestment fund, which would “establish a grant program to reinvest in communities most affected by the war on drugs, which shall include providing grants to impacted communities for programs” that include libraries, community centers and job training.

People who have been “aggrieved by a disproportionate arrest rate or a disproportionate incarceration rate” would be able to file civil lawsuits against states under the bill.

During the last Congress, Booker's Marijuana Justice Act garnered six co-sponsors in the Senate, while 43 House members signed on to that chamber's version of the bill. Neither received hearings or votes.

Legalization advocates cheered the bill's reintroduction.

“Cory Booker and Barbara Lee have single-handedly shifted the conversation in Congress on cannabis reform. The failures and harms caused by decades of cannabis prohibition, particularly the impact on low-income communities and communities of color, are undisputed,” said Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. “For decades, marijuana arrests, convictions, and subsequent collateral consequences have disrupted lives, which have also destroyed the social and economic fabric of certain communities. Now with Democrats in control of the House, it's time to right these wrongs and advance this conversation even further by passing cannabis reform that is centered on criminal justice reform and economic empowerment of impacted communities.”

The new legislation's language is identical to that filed last Congress, with the exception that the community reinvestment fund covers fiscal years 2020 through 2042 instead of 2018 through 2040, as in the last version.

“The Marijuana Justice Act is the most comprehensive piece of federal legislation ever introduced to end the failed policy of marijuana prohibition and to address the egregious harms that this policy has wrought on already marginalized communities,” said Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “This robust legislation not only removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, but it also provides a path forward for the individuals and communities that have been most disproportionately impacted by our nation's failed war on marijuana consumers.”

Read the full text of the Marijuana Justice Act as introduced in the House below:

Marijuana Justice Act of 2019 on Scribd

 

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