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August 01, 2017

Booker bill would make marijuana legal in U.S.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced legislation on Tuesday that would end federal prohibition of marijuana.

The Marijuana Justice Act would remove pot as a Schedule I drug from the Controlled Substance Act, making it legal at the federal level. A statement from Booker's office indicated that the bill would incentivize states through federal money to change their marijuana laws, but only if those laws are shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income people or people of color.

"Our country's drug laws are badly broken and need to be fixed," Booker said in the statement. "They don't make our communities any safer."

Booker, a Democrat, announced the bill and outlined it in a 35-minute video broadcast live on Facebook Tuesday.

“For decades, the failed War on Drugs has locked up millions of nonviolent drug offenders – especially for marijuana-related offenses – at an incredible cost of lost human potential, torn apart families and communities, and taxpayer dollars,” Booker said. “The effects of the drug war have had a disproportionately devastating impact on Americans of color and the poor.”

He also said poor people and minorities have been incarcerated on marijuana-related charges at higher rates than wealthier and white people.

Comments and reaction to the move, of course, varied widely on social media.

The bill would retroactively apply to those serving time behind bars for marijuana-related offenses. It would expunge federal marijuana use and possession crimes, and it would allow those behind bars for marijuana-related crimes to petition their sentence.

"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.

The act would also create a community reinvestment fund for communities deemed to be most impacted by the federal government's "war on drugs" campaign, according to Booker's statement. Grants funded through it would cover job training, re-entry services, expungement expenses, public libraries, community centers, youth programs and health education programs.

A similar bill introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2015 failed to gain co-sponsors and stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to The Hill.

Booker introduced the bill despite a Republican-controlled congress and a president whose administration has been outspoken against marijuana. 

In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked Congress to roll back federal medical-marijuana protections that have been in place since 2014.