This Tuesday, US Senator (D-NJ) Cory Booker introduced the Marijuana Justice Act in Congress, aiming to legalise the production and use of cannabis on a federal level in the United States. In a Facebook Live video, the Senator exposed the content of his bill and his reasons for introducing such a controversial issue in the Congress legislative agenda.

The Marijuana Justice Act would introduce four significant changes to United States law.

Firstly, it would completely de-schedule cannabis from the list of illicit substances. Since 1970, drugs in the USA are classified in five schedules, grading them from schedule 1 (high potential for abuse with no potential for medical application) to schedule 5 (low potential for abuse with accepted potential for medical application). Cannabis is classified as a schedule 1 drug along with cocaine and heroin, although the addictive and harm potentials of cannabis are far lower than those of cocaine and heroin.

Declassifying cannabis from the Controlled substances Act of 1970 would allow for production and use of cannabis for recreational and medical purposes in the United States. For Senator Cory Booker, such measure would also decrease the number of incarcerated people in the United States. US federal prisons population has risen by 800% since the 1980s, and overall country incarceration population has increased by 500%. Since the legalisation of cannabis in states like Colorado, statistics have indeed shown a decrease in crime rates.

The economic gain from the legalisation of cannabis on a federal level are tremendous. North American consumers spent $6.7 Billion on legal cannabis products in 2016, up 34% from 2015 according to Arcview, cannabis market experts. They also estimate that the market will worth $22.6 Billion by 2021.

US Senate (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Secondly, the bill would retroactively expunge people who have been prosecuted for use and possession of marijuana. Senator Cory Booker emphasized the fact that prosecuted people in the United States have a lot of difficulties finding a job, illustrating that even “applying for a taxicab licence, {is} something you can’t get in many States, even if your marijuana conviction was ten, twenty, thirty years ago”. Another argument supporting the Senator’s project is that it would allow convicted people to vote again, and therefore regaining their citizenship.

Thirdly, the bill would create incentives for States to change their laws regarding cannabis. “We believe that States should be moving in the same way to legalise marijuana, to end racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana laws, and frankly to end the disproportionate targeting of poor people”.

The enforcement of cannabis laws in the United States are responsible for unequal targeting and prosecution of people that use or possess cannabis. A 2016 study published by Human Rights Watch revealed that:

“In the 39 states for which we have sufficient police data, black adults were more than four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as white adultsIn every state for which we have sufficient police data, black adults were arrested for drug possession at higher rates than white adults, and in many states the disparities were substantially higher than the national rate—over 6 to 1 in Montana, Iowa, and Vermont”.

Senator Cory Booker hopes that the legalisation of cannabis throughout the country would reduce the prosecution of minorities and poor communities.

Finally, the bill would create a community investment fund that would allow the rehabilitation of communities that have been devastated by cannabis enforcement laws. The Marijuana Justice Act would allow for this fund to invest in job training, re-entry services, expenses relating to expungement procedures, but also in community services such as public libraries or youth services. Senator Booker said:

We need to make sure that not only are we making it legal on a federal level, not only moving States to do the same, but to start targeting on not only ending the racial disparities in incarceration and the targeting of poor people, but try to do what I call “restorative” justice, {by helping} communities that have been disproportionately impacted and helping them to heal, helping them to recover from what has been the unjust application of the law”.

This announcement comes soon after Trump’s top strategist, Roger Stone, revealed at the 3rd annual Politicon conference last Saturday that he has been trying to persuade the President to legalise cannabis. Stone, an unlikely supporter of cannabis legalisation, has created a lobby dedicated to it called US Cannabis Coalition, and could end up being a powerful ally in passing the Cannabis Justice Act.

Despite powerful lobbyists like Stone, and the fact that 60% of Americans are now in favour of legalising cannabis for recreational use, according to the latest research by Arcview, the bill will most likely face rejection in a Republican Congress.

Words by Pierre-Yves Galléty. Tweets @PYGallety

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