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Booker, Lee, Khanna Introduce Landmark Marijuana Justice Bill

Social justice bill would end the federal prohibition on marijuana, expunge records, and reinvest in communities most impacted by War on Drugs

February 28, 2019
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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate's Judiciary Committee, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), today reintroduced their landmark bill to end the federal prohibition on marijuana.

In the Senate, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

"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."

"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. And we must expunge the records of those who have served their time. The end we seek is not just legalization, it's justice."

"The War on Drugs has destroyed lives, and no one continues to be hurt more than people of color and low-income communities," said Wyden. "There is a desperate need not only to correct course by ending the failed federal prohibition of marijuana, but to right these wrongs and ensure equal justice for those who have been disproportionately impacted."

"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.

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"This long-overdue change will help bring our marijuana laws into the 21st century. It's past time we bring fairness and relief to communities that our criminal justice system has too often left behind." said Bennet.

"Communities of color and low-income communities have been devastated by the War on Drugs," said Lee. "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," said Khanna. "Rep. Lee, Sen. Booker, and I are proud to introduce this important legislation and deliver justice for so many Americans."

The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of failed drug policy that has disproportionately impacted low-income communities and communities of color. Beyond removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances - making it legal at the federal level - the bill would also automatically expunge the convictions of those who have served federal time for marijuana use and possession offenses, and it would reinvest in the communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs through a community fund. This community reinvestment fund could be used for projects such as job training programs, re-entry services, and community centers.

The bill would also incentivize states through the use of 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.

By going further than simply rescheduling marijuana with expungement and community reinvestment, Booker, Lee, and Khanna's bill is the most far-reaching marijuana legislation ever to be introduced in Congress.

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.

Full text of the bill is here.

Background on Booker's leadership on issues of marijuana and criminal justice:

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 was an outspoken critic of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions' effort to revive the failed War on Drugs. Most recently, he pressed Trump's newest pick for Attorney General, William Barr, on his stance on marijuana legalization and the Cole memo, winning a commitment from Barr to leave alone states that have already legalized marijuana.

In addition to the Marijuana Justice Act, Booker is the co-author of the bipartisan CARERS Act, which would allow patients to access medical marijuana in states where it's legal without fear of federal prosecution, and the bipartisan REDEEM Act, which would allow nonviolent drug offenders to petition a court to seal and expunge their drug offenses, while automatically sealing, and in some cases expunging, the nonviolent records of juveniles. These reforms would reduce a major barrier that formerly incarcerated individuals face when attempting to rejoin society. He is also a cosponsor of the Fair Chance Act, which prohibits the federal government and federal contractors from asking about the criminal history of a job applicant prior to a conditional offer of employment. Earlier this month, the Fair Chance Act passed out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Booker was a key architect of the First Step Act, the most sweeping overhaul of our criminal justice system in a decade, which passed the Senate on December 18, 2018, and was signed into law on December 21. Booker was instrumental in adding key sentencing provisions to the package after opposing the House-passed version of the First Step Act first released in May 2018. The sentencing provisions in the final bill include: reducing the "three strikes" penalty from life in prison to 25 years; giving judges greater discretion to circumvent mandatory minimum sentences when warranted; eliminating the so-called "stacking" of mandatory minimum sentence enhancements related to certain firearm offenses; and making retroactive a 2010 law that reduced the egregious sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine -- disparities that overwhelmingly and disproportionately affect African-Americans.

Booker also successfully fought to include provisions that effectively eliminate the solitary confinement of juveniles in federal supervision.

The legislation also includes provisions Booker has long advocated for that ban the shackling of pregnant inmates and require that healthcare products be provided to incarcerated women.