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Marijuana Justice Act Gains Momentum In Senate

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A Democratic senator who many political observers believe will run for her party’s presidential nomination in 2020 is joining another possible contender in supporting the most far-reaching marijuana legislation ever to be considered in Congress.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on Wednesday signed on as the latest cosponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act, a bill that Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) filed last August.

Watch as Gillibrand and Booker discuss the bill:

The bill would not only remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act so that states could legalize without federal interference, but would also withhold funding from states that maintain prohibition and continue racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates for cannabis.

In a Facebook Live video, Gillibrand cited the fact that marijuana usage rates are virtually identical across racial lines while people of color are more likely to be arrested, convicted and sentenced for it.

“The way our criminal justice system is working is so harmful, and so biased,” she said.

Booker praised states that are ending cannabis prohibition, but said that they also need to allow people who have been caught up in the failed war on drugs to participate in the newly legal economy.

“God bless you for legalizing marijuana,” he said. “But if that’s all we do, I am not satisfied. I am angry.”

The legislation would also require federal courts to expunge people’s prior marijuana convictions and would let people punished under disproportionately enforced cannabis laws to file civil lawsuits against those states.

Money withheld from states with discriminatory marijuana policies would be used to fund job training and libraries.

“Millions of Americans’ lives have been devastated because of our broken marijuana policies, especially in communities of color and low-income communities,” Gillibrand said in a press release about the bill. “Just one minor possession conviction could take away a lifetime of opportunities for jobs, education, and housing, tear families apart, and make people more vulnerable to serving time in jail or prison down the road. The reality that my 14-year-old son would likely be treated very differently from one of his Black or Latino peers if he was caught with marijuana is shameful. Legalizing marijuana is a social justice issue and a moral issue that Congress needs to address, and I’m proud to work with Senator Booker on this legislation to help fix decades of injustice caused by our nation’s failed drug policies.”

Booker added:

“Legalizing marijuana isn’t a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. I’m thrilled Senator Gillibrand has joined me in this movement to make our justice system more fair. The War on Drugs has been a war on people, especially people of color and low-income individuals.The Marijuana Justice Act would reverse this trend by not only legalizing marijuana, but by also helping to address the damage the War on Drugs has inflicted on communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana enforcement.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) signed on as the bill’s first cosponsor in December.

Senior Senate Dem Signs Bill To Punish States With Bad Marijuana Laws

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) filed a companion bill in the House last month. It currently has 24 cosponsors.

Booker and Gillibrand have worked together over the past two congresses to sponsor far-reaching medical cannabis legislation.

The two also joined 16 other senators this week in signing a letter calling for new far-reaching protections for state marijuana laws to be inserted into federal spending legislation.

Protect Marijuana From Jeff Sessions, GOP & Dem Senators Ask Leaders

Photo courtesy of personaldemocracy.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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