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Column: Sen. Booker’s Bill Is More Than Marijuana

The Trickle Down

Sen. Cory Booker introduced marijuana legislation that can help tax payers and minorities.

Senator Cory Booker thinks it’s time to legalize marijuana at the federal level.  The New Jersey Democrat wants to change how the government considers this drug.

So, he introduced the Marijuana Justice Act.

Marijuana legalization support is now in the majority.  A Gallup poll showed 60% of Americans support marijuana legalization.  Booker, not notoriously known for smoking, is resolute on marijuana policies disproportionately affecting minorities.

The NJ politician gave a teaser on Twitter Tuesday morning, but announced on Facebook Live, outlining his reasoning.

The Marijuana Justice Act is not expected to pass, but is giving credence to the arguments of racism in the criminal justice system.  And, it’s high-time the government take a look at something so sweeping within the governing system.

Booker’s announcement echoes research done on the criminal justice system and the War on Drugs, but mostly it’s disproportionate persecution of the policies with races.  The ACLU did exhaustive research on marijuana usage, arrests, and regions.  This research showed whites and blacks use marijuana at very similar rates.

Marijuana usage rates.

Yet, whites are disproportionately less likely to be arrested.

Marijuana arrest rates.

“Our country’s drug laws are badly broken and need to be fixed,” Booker said in a press release. “They don’t make our communities any safer – instead they divert critical resources from fighting violent crimes, tear families apart, unfairly impact low-income communities and communities of color, and waste billions in taxpayer dollars each year.”

The ACLU estimated more than $3 billion was spent in 2010 alone. That’s the annual cost for the U.S. to repair annual pothole damage, a fraction of the cost to repair subway signals, and the estimated cost to clean up a 2016 east coast blizzard – all things governments can pay for with deferring the cost of marijuana policies.

“Had marijuana been regulated like alcohol, and had its use been treated as a public health issue akin to alcohol instead of as a criminal justice issue, this is money that cities, counties, and police departments could have invested in an array of other law enforcement priorities and community initiatives.”

The Marijuana Justice Act addresses the current use and previous offenses by descheduling.

“Descheduling marijuana and applying that change retroactively to people currently serving time for marijuana offenses is a necessary step in correcting this unjust system,” Booker said.

This bill is in direct opposition to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s agenda on marijuana prosecution.  The AG wrote a letter to Congress asking to prosecute medical marijuana facilities and make the drug a larger focus.

It’s worth noting that Sessions is not known for racial parity.  Sessions has been famously cited by Coretta Scott King in a letter to Strom Thurmond for using the “awesome powers of [the attorney general’s office] as a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”  

The letter resurfaced when Sen. Elizabeth (D-MA) read the letter on the Senate floor during the Sessions confirmation hearing, but was silenced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, using Rule 19 – or a senator exhibiting “any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”

Booker is introducing this landmark legislation two years after former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) proposed a similar bill, and stalled in committee.

“This is the right thing to do for public safety, and will help reduce our overflowing prison population,” Booker said in his Facebook announcement.

And it’s time the rest of Congress take note.

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