U.S. Sen. Cory Booker is proposing a far-reaching bill that would both legalize marijuana at the federal level and encourage states to legalize it locally through incentives.
The New Jersey Democrat’s bill, called the Marijuana Justice Act, has virtually no chance of passage in the Republican-controlled Congress and in a presidential administration that’s decidedly anti-marijuana.
“You see these marijuana arrests happening so much in our country, targeting certain communities — poor communities, minority communities — targeting people with an illness,” Booker, the former mayor of Newark, said in a Facebook Live roll-out of his legislation.
The bill would remove the federal prohibition on marijuana and withhold federal money for building jails and prisons, along with other funds, from states whose cannabis laws are shown to disproportionately incarcerate minorities.
Under the legislation, federal convictions for marijuana use and possession would be expunged and prisoners serving time for a marijuana offense would be entitled to a sentencing hearing.
Those “aggrieved” by a disproportionate arrest or imprisonment rate would be able to sue, according to the bill. And a Community Reinvestment Fund would be established to “reinvest in communities most affected by the war on drugs” for everything from re-entry programs to public libraries.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana.
“They’re actually seeing positive things coming out of that experience. Now I believe the federal government should get out of the illegal marijuana business,” Booker said, adding that it “disturbs” him that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled that the federal government should take a harder line on marijuana.
Booker’s bill comes as New Jersey considers legalizing marijuana. Legislative leaders have expressed support for a bill introduced by Democratic state Sen. Nicholas Scuatri. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy — the heavy favorite to be elected governor — has said he would sign such a bill.
Gov. Chris Christie, who leaves office in January, has vowed to veto any marijuana legalization bill. The Republican governor also chairs a presidential commission on opioid addiction.
Marijuana legalization advocates were thrilled with Booker’s proposal.
“This is the single most far-reaching marijuana bill that’s ever been filed in either chamber of Congress,” Tom Angell, chairman of the group Marijuana Majority, said in a statement. "More than just getting the federal government out of the way so that states can legalize without [Drug Enforcement Administration] harassment, this new proposal goes even further by actually punishing states that have bad marijuana laws.
"Polls increasingly show growing majority voter support for legalization," he said. "So this is something that more senators should be signing onto right away."
UPDATE: This story has been updated with additional information and reaction to Booker’s proposal.