Ending federal marijuana prohibition and expunging records for prior cannabis convictions are part of a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that’s being introduced on Thursday.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) are sponsoring the Senate and House versions of what’s being called the Next Step Act. As the title implies, the legislation is a follow up to a bipartisan sentencing reform bill, the First Step Act, which was signed into law by President Trump last year.
Watch the lawmakers talk about the bill at a press conference below:
Besides descheduling cannabis and clearing records for marijuana convictions, the bill also calls reinvestment in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
The Next Step Act would end the federal prohibition on marijuana, expunge records, and reinvest in the communities most harmed by the War on Drugs.
— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) March 7, 2019
But wide-ranging as that may be, marijuana reform is just one aspects of the legislation. It would also reduce mandatory minimum sentences, reinstate the right to vote in federal elections for formerly incarcerated people, provide for the sealing of criminal records for all non-violent drug offenses and require racial bias and use-of-force training for law enforcement, among other things.
“There’s more that remains to be done so that our justice system truly embodies those words etched onto our nation’s highest court—‘equal justice under law.’ That’s exactly what the Next Step Act does,” Booker said in a press release.
“It’s been 75 days since the First Step Act was signed into law, and already, it’s changing lives,” Booker said in a press release. “But the First Step Act is just as its name suggests – it is one step on the long road toward fixing our broken criminal justice system. There’s more that remains to be done so that our justice system truly embodies those words etched onto our nation’s highest court – ‘equal justice under law.’ That’s exactly what the Next Step Act does.
“It builds off the gains of the First Step Act and pushes for bolder, more comprehensive reforms, like eliminating the sentencing disparities that still exist between crack and powder cocaine, assisting those coming out of prison with getting proper work authorization and ID documents, reducing the barriers formerly incarcerated individuals face when they try to find jobs, and ending the federal prohibition on marijuana.”
Separately, Booker is the lead sponsor of another bill that would end federal cannabis prohibition and penalize states where enforcement is carried out in a racially or socioeconomically disproportionate manner. Five current competing Democratic presidential candidates teamed up last week to cosponsor that legislation, called the Marijuana Justice Act.
The cannabis provisions of the new Next Step Act are in line with those of that standalone marijuana bill.
Watson Coleman said that her support for the First Step Act was “contingent on there being a next step” and that this latest legislation “fulfills that promise and builds upon the foundation we laid last year.”
The #NextStepAct builds upon the foundation we laid last year and includes comprehensive reform that addresses the consequences of the War on Drugs, helps provide pathways for people coming out of the criminal justice system, and provides for better training for law enforcement
— Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (@RepBonnie) March 7, 2019
“It moves us toward comprehensive reform that addresses the consequences of the War on Drugs, helps provide pathways for people coming out of the criminal justice system, and provides for better training for law enforcement,” she said.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) will likely be supportive of the legislation, given that he called for marijuana decriminalization to be the “next step” that Congress should take after approving the First Step Act.
Photo courtesy of Jamelle Bouie.