Sen. Cory Booker has introduced the Marijuana Justice Act earlier this week. The bill not only aims to end cannabis prohibition but goes much further by proposing what Mr. Booker calls ‘restorative justice’.
“You see, it’s not enough just to say marijuana is going to be legalized, let’s move forward, this has done serious damage to our communities, it has done serious damage to American families, and we need to make sure that we are not only making it legal on the federal level not only moving states to do the same, not only ending the racial disparities and incarnations and the targeting of poor people, but try to do what I call restorative justice.
Finding ways to take 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.”
The New Jersey Senator said that the criminal justice system does not fulfil the American promise and ideology of liberty and justice for all, as he quoted Bryan Stevenson saying that the criminal justice system “treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.”
The war on drugs has not been applied to everyone but has specifically been focused on the most vulnerable in the community.
Most racial groups in America are using cannabis at the same or very similar rate, while African Americans get arrested about four times and Latinos about twice the rate of their white fellow citizens.
It’s not just the wasted taxpayers’ dollars but it has devastating effects on targeted communities.
Mr. Booker pointed out the successful example set by the legal states, most especially in regards to the reduction of violent crime.
“…what’s starting to happen around this country right now … 8 states and the District of Columbia have moved to legalize marijuana and now having months and months of evidence, these states are seeing decreases in violent crime in their states. They are seeing actually increases in revenue to their states. They are seeing their police forces being able to focus their time, energy and resources… focusing on serious crime. They are seeing actually positive things coming out of that experience.”
In line with the recent lawsuit filed against Jeff Sessions, Sen. Booker also expressed his disapproval of the Attorney General’s approach towards cannabis and towards communities of colour.
“I believe the federal government should get out of the illegal marijuana business. And it disturbs me right now that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not moving as the states are, moving as public opinion is, but actually saying that we should be doubling down and enforcing federal marijuana laws, even in states that have made marijuana legal. This to me is outrageous and unacceptable.”
We must do better than letting this happen to be done in our names.
“So given the crises, given the racial impact of marijuana enforcement, given the punishing of poor people through marijuana enforcement, given the challenges that people with mental illnesses or veterans are experiencing through the criminal justice system and disproportionately targeting them with marijuana enforcement, we must do better.”
“We have a criminal justice system that is doing things in our name that is not about justice.”
The Senator showed support for veterans throughout his Facebook live video.
“How could we be coming down criminally on veterans… when they are doing things like using marijuana just to help them deal with their post traumatic stress, just to help them deal with depression.”
Here is a brief outline of what the bill proposes:
- De-scheduling marijuana making it legal on the federal level
“My bill does a number of things, first and foremost it de-schedules marijuana from the list of controlled substances, thus making it no longer illegal in federal law.
That to me is a very important step, but it is just a beginning.”
- Lay down the path for expungement for marijuana charges
“The next thing it does, it retroactively expunges people who have been convicted of use and possession of marijuana.
Remember, these are charges that follow people for the rest of their lives.
Making it difficult for them to do things we take for granted like applying for a taxicab license, something you can’t get in many states even if your marijuana conviction was 10, 20 – 30 years ago.”
- Create the possibility to reduce or eliminate prison sentences for marijuana related charges
“It also creates not only a retroactive expungement… for people that are in prison right now for marijuana related charges, it gives them an avenue to appeal to the court to have their sentences reduced or eliminated.”
- Introduce incentives to state governments to change their cannabis laws
“… because of the punishing of poor people, the wildly disproportionate effect on communities of colour, often poor communities themselves, we create incentives for states, an incentive pool for states to change their laws. To stop continuing by enforcing the law in such an unjust manner. We believe that states should be moving, in the same way, to legalize marijuana to end racial disparities, enforcement of marijuana laws and frankly to end the disproportionate targeting of poor people.”
- Create a Community Reinvestment Fund to help the communities that have been most targeted, hence the most affected by the war on drugs
“It creates a community reinvestment fund. So that communities who have been disproportionately impacted for decades by marijuana laws, who have been devastated by marijuana laws and their unjust application… they can apply for community reinvestment funds that would help with a number of things. That could help with job training, re-entry services, expenses related to expungement and conviction… but also investing in things like public libraries, community centres and programs that are dedicated to youth.”
So far Senator Booker hasn’t got any co-sponsors, however, he also says that he had not pushed hard to get them until now.
“It is crazy for the federal government to be behind the states and now Jeff Sessions is threatening the states who already moved to legalize marijuana. I am hoping that we can get a bi-partisan support for the de-scheduling of marijuana and frankly for the incentivising of states, looking to heal states and help people that are still struggling after five – ten years after their marijuana related charge.”
100’s of billions of dollars have been spent on building prison infrastructure to facilitate the failed war on drugs.
Senator Booker also discussed the fact that 100’s of billions of dollars were spent on building prisons across the country, while schools and other public infrastructure have been neglected.
The war on drugs has increased the federal prison population by 800% since the 80’s.
Other developed nations around the world invested their infrastructure funds in making their trains faster, their public schools better, providing universal preschool for their kids, making their ports more efficient, while the United States spent the infrastructure dollars on prison infrastructure.
He also shared his thoughts on alcohol fueled violence and all the problems he faced as a mayor due to alcohol in the community.
“We can look back in history and see the consequences… of prohibition of something like marijuana run a police department… being a mayor, overseeing a police department, we have so many more calls about alcohol related issues, alcohol related violence… from drunk driving to domestic abuse to other serious violence fueled by alcohol.”
Prohibition fuels violence and crime and it is highly hypocritical as it is applied selectively.
“What gets me is… we’ve legalized alcohol, but we had a time when it wasn’t and we saw what happened, the proliferation of gangs, the proliferation of violence and murder all of that was surrounding this system of making alcohol prohibition and the hypocrisy was there then as well. You had people in congress with little hidden little cabinets for their alcohol, so if you were connected or elected, you could overcome the prohibition… it’s the same thing now, we made marijuana illegal, you see a lot of violence associated with that marijuana. Look at the states that made it legal and what’s happening to their violent crime rates. Yet the privileged people… and I saw this at Stanford and at Yale, people can just smoke marijuana with cavalier disregard for the law, no concern with being caught…”
It is such a bad policy if you are trying to make cities and communities safer.”
Getting the data and the facts out is the first step in changing the stigma and the unjust cannabis laws.
“We have to get people to understand what this drug war is doing and who it is targeting and we need to bring that data out for people to understand that. That again privileged communities do not get targeted by the drug war, it is disproportionately poor communities… communities of colour… where we’re seeing the end of prohibition in many states, you are seeing violent crime go down.”
Here is the entire Facebook Live Video with Senator Cory Booker: