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Merkley Becomes Fifth Senate Cosponsor of Landmark Bill to End Federal Prohibition of Marijuana

Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of policy that has disproportionately impacted communities of color, low-income communities

May 23, 2018
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)  today became the fifth U.S. senator to cosponsor Senator Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) landmark bill to end the federal prohibition on marijuana. The Marijuana Justice Act would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances, making it legal at the federal level.

Merkley has been a leader within in the Senate on several marijuana-related issues, spearheading bipartisan efforts to enable banks to serve legal cannabis businesses so they don’t have to operate in all cash, and to empower VA doctors to advise veterans on marijuana use in medical marijuana states. In 2014, he was the first U.S. Senator to support legalizing recreational marijuana.

“More than half of the United States has enacted legislation allowing for either medical or adult-use of cannabis, yet federal law remains in conflict,” said Senator Merkley. “This creates significant problems, not only with the prosecution of nonviolent cannabis crimes — which disproportionately hurts people of color — but also with lack of banking services for legally operating businesses. As long as financial institutions aren’t able to service cannabis enterprises, these businesses are forced to operate in an all-cash environment that’s unsafe and lacks accountability. This bill would place cannabis legalization in the hands of states — exactly where it should be.”

“I’m grateful that Senator Merkley is joining our effort to make our criminal justice system more consistent with the words inscribed above our Supreme Court – equal justice under the law. The War on Drugs has been a war on people – and most often people of color and the poor,” said Senator Booker. “I have seen firsthand the ways these policies have harmed neighborhoods, and I know that far too many innocent people in low-income communities and communities of color are having their futures destroyed by the disproportionate enforcement of these laws. It’s time for us to abandon the destructive federal prohibition of marijuana and focus our energy on righting the wrongs of the War on Drugs and prioritizing public safety and human potential.”

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) became the first Senator to cosponsor the Marijuana Justice Act last year, followed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in February, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in April and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) earlier in May. In addition to these cosponsors, Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Ro Khanna (D-CA) introduced a companion measure in the House of Representatives earlier this year that has 35 cosponsors.

In addition to removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances, the bill would incentivize states through federal funds to change their marijuana laws if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income individuals and/or people of color. The bill is retroactive and would apply to those already serving time behind bars for marijuana-related offenses, providing for a judge’s review of marijuana sentences.

Specifically, the Marijuana Justice Act will:

  • Remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances, making it legal at the federal level;

  • Incentivize states through federal funds to change their marijuana laws if marijuana in the state is illegal and the state disproportionately arrests or incarcerates low-income individuals or people of color for marijuana-related offenses;

  • Automatically expunge federal marijuana use and possession crimes;

  • Allow an individual currently serving time in federal prison for marijuana use or possession crimes to petition a court for a resentencing;

  • Create a community reinvestment fund to reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs and allow those funds to be invested in the following programs:

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    • Job training;

    • Reentry services;

    • Expenses related to the expungement of convictions;

    • Public libraries;

    • Community centers;

    • Programs and opportunities dedicated to youth; and

    • Health education

Booker has seen the effects of our broken marijuana laws first-hand, dating back to his time as a tenant lawyer, City Council member, and Mayor of Newark, where he created the city’s first office of prisoner re-entry to help formerly incarcerated individuals re-integrate into their communities.

In the Senate, Booker has been an outspoken critic of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ effort to revive the failed War on Drugs. In addition to the Marijuana Justice Act, last year, he re-introduced the bipartisan CARERS Act, which would allow patients to access medical marijuana in states where it’s legal without fear of federal prosecution. He is also co-author of bills to restrict the use of juvenile solitary confinement and reform the way women are treated behind bars.

 

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