The road to marijuana legalization has not been an easy one. Since Richard Nixon demonized certain recreational and therapeutic substances in order to target minority and revolutionary factions of American society, millions of people have been jailed and billions of taxpayer dollars spent to keep them there.
That is why New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, a federal bill that would nationally legalize marijuana. In a lengthy Facebook video he explains American values have been compromised in the “War on Drugs” initiated by Nixon and boosted by the Reagan administration. The government, he says, has not fulfilled its duty of “liberty and justice for all” in our prison system. Marijuana legislation has unfairly jailed minority citizens, veterans, and the mentally ill.
Booker says, "We’re not seeing the equal application of our criminal justice system. We’re not seeing people being arrested in any way that reflect our values." Since the eighties, he continues, federal incarceration rates have gone up 800 percent; if you include local and state prisons the number is 500 percent. Quoting a friend of his, Booker says we have a justice system that treats you better “if you’re rich and guilty rather than poor and innocent.”
Booker points out that while there is no difference between black and white Americans in terms of number of users, black are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. What’s often a joke in movies and among his peers in government is a sledgehammer to poor communities.
These convictions not only jail individuals, they destroy communities and create crises within families. The mark on the smoker’s record is permanent, barring them from loans and employment opportunities. Booker points out that America would have a 20 percent reduction in poverty if our incarceration rates were similar to other nations.
He also states the federal government should “get out of the illegal marijuana business,” and that the current attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is moving backwards in terms of drug policy—a move he calls “unacceptable.”
Booker’s bill has four main platforms:
1. Marijuana will no longer be illegal under federal law
2. Retroactively expunges people who have been convicted of use and possession of marijuana
3. Creates incentive for states to change their laws, which will stop them from enforcing the law in an unjust manner
4. Communities devastated by marijuana laws will be able to apply for reinvestment funds, to help pay for community centers, public libraries, youth centers, and other infrastructure and social needs
How Booker’s bill will fare is anyone’s guess, though it’s an important step forward socially and therapeutically. While research has increased in recent years as more states legalized marijuana, until the federal government overturns decades of bad policies, researchers will not have full access to discovering what cannabinoids and other compounds are—and are not—helpful for.
Imagining any bill receiving bipartisan support is difficult at this time, though the revenue being generated is appealing to every legislator. One recent report states that taxes will clear $655 million this year, forecasting $1.8 billon in states in which marijuana is currently legal.
Colorado, which recently saw a 57.2 percent revenue increase from marijuana taxes, put $16 million of that money towards Affordable Housing Grants and Loans. If this could be applied nationally, Booker believes, the effects on poor communities would be tremendous.
The demonization of marijuana was due to corporate strong-arming. Anti-marijuana policies are the results of political posturing. It’s time we atone for these sins, which have, as Booker says, destroyed communities and families. His is the strongest bill to date. Enough moving backwards on this overdue policy.
Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.