What Is The Marijuana Justice Act?
Legislation moving through both chambers of Congress right now gives a whole new meaning to Michelle Obama’s rallying cry from the 2016 Democratic National Convention: “When they go low, we go high.” When U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions pulled the plug on the states’-rights-focused Cole Memo earlier this month, lawmakers opted to double-down with bills that could legalize marijuana on the federal level. The Marijuana Justice Act, introduced in the Senate by Democrat Cory Booker from New Jersey, is perhaps the best shot the American people have in the fight against marijuana prohibition.
The Marijuana Justice Act was announced on August 1, 2017, by Booker, and he considers it to be the “most ambitious marijuana bill” to be introduced to Congress. Indeed: the Marijuana Justice Act bill aims to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act, thus rendering weed legal on the federal level. In addition to this massive overhaul of current policy, the other tenets of Booker’s bill, according to his official press release, include:
- Using federal funds to incentivize states to alter their marijuana laws if it is still illegal in that state and disproportionate marijuana-related arrests of low-income and people of color occur there.
- Expunge federal marijuana use and possession crimes—automatically.
- Allow federal prisoners held on marijuana-related charges to petition for resentencing.
- Develop a reinvestment fund for communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs, focusing on job training, re-entry services, conviction expungement fees, public libraries, community centers, youth programs and opportunities, and health education programs.
Booker is an outspoken opponent of the current U.S. Attorney General and has been noted as one of the greatest threats to Sessions’ anti-weed stance. Booker co-sponsors the CARERS (Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States) Act, a bipartisan bill that reschedules marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II controlled substance, but his Marijuana Justice Act takes it even further. And thanks to Booker’s friends in the House of Representatives, the Marijuana Justice Act has a stronger chance of being a success.
The Two-Pronged Approach to Marijuana’s Federal Legalization Bill
The Great Greening of Congress 2018
In order for a bill to become law, both chambers of Congress—that’s the House of Representatives and the Senate—must pass it with a simple majority vote. The Marijuana Justice Act finds its companion bill in the House with co-sponsors Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna, both Democrats from California. This is the first time companion legislation has been in both the House and Senate at the same time, but how long does it take for a bill to pass into law?
Provided the President is on board with the actions of Congress, a bill can become law in as few as 10 days. It’s unlikely that will be the case under the current presidency, but because Trump does not favor the actions of his former underling Sessions, it’s possible that he would sign the bill into law just to spite him. You never can tell with that one, can you?
Even if the President vetoes the Marijuana Justice Act, all hope is not lost. Once vetoed, a bill returns to Congress, and if it’s passed with a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers: boom, we’ve got ourselves a new law regardless of what the President wants.
Other Possibilities on the Federal Level
Fly high the banner of legalization on the federal level!
Marijuana legalization has been notoriously aligned with Democrats, but because of Sessions’ recent anti-states’-rights move to abolish the Cole Memo, Republicans (who control both the House and Senate) could help usher the Marijuana Justice Act into law. If this approach does not pan out right away, however, there is light at the end of the tunnel: midterm elections. Every single seat in the House of Representatives (435), as well as one-third of the Senate’s seats (33 out of 100), will be contested in November of this year, and it’s anticipated that there will be a “blue tsunami” of Democrats taking control of Congress.
Including the Marijuana Justice Act, there are five pending Congressional motions concerning marijuana currently in Congress.
- The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act also removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, but this House bill is not as wide-reaching or progressive as the Marijuana Justice Act.
- The REFER Act, aka the Restraining Excessive Federal Enforcement and Regulations of Cannabis Act, which was introduced to the House by MJA co-sponsor Barbara Lee of California, keeps federal paws out of cannabis businesses that comply with state laws.
- The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment keeps the Department of Justice from attacking medical marijuana, and the McClintock-Polis amendment addresses recreational marijuana, too. Both of these come from the House.
- The Respect State Marijuana Act in the House of Representatives de-schedules marijuana as long as state laws are abided.
Some fear that the provisions of these initiatives are too similar and will dilute support. Others think that the time to strike has not yet arrived. One thing is for certain: the times they are a’changin’. The best ways an individual citizen can help change archaic, racist and intrusive federally mandated laws regarding marijuana is to register to vote in the midterm elections and voice their opinions to their elected officials. The Marijuana Justice Act may not pass into law right away, but its very existence is a major step forward in the war on the War on Drugs.