By Tom Huddleston Jr.
August 1, 2017

Senator Cory Booker introduced a new bill on Tuesday that would legalize marijuana at the federal level while encouraging individual states to change their marijuana laws, or else be deprived of federal funds.

Booker announced the new bill, called the Marijuana Justice Act, in a tweet on Tuesday morning before discussing the bill live on his Facebook page. The Democratic senator’s proposed legislation will face an unlikely road to passage, considering that most lawmakers (including those in the White House) are reluctant to end the drug’s federal prohibition, but the bill is still the latest attempt by a prominent politician to update federal marijuana laws at a time when a clear majority of Americans support legalization.

Booker’s bill would first remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, where it is currently listed as a Schedule 1 drug on par with drugs like heroin and LSD. And because individual states could still prohibit marijuana locally, Booker’s bill would also incentivize states to change their marijuana laws by withholding federal funding from any states that have enforced laws against the drug in ways that disproportionately affect low-income citizens and people of color.

“For decades, the failed War on Drugs has locked up millions of nonviolent drug offenders—especially for marijuana-related offenses—at an incredible cost of lost human potential, torn apart families and communities, and taxpayer dollars,” Booker wrote in a Facebook post. “The effects of the drug war have had a disproportionately devastating impact on Americans of color and the poor.”

The proposed legislation would be retroactive, as it would expunge previous federal marijuana use and possession crimes from people’s records while allowing those currently imprisoned for marijuana-related offenses to apply for resentencing. The senator also noted that federal funds withheld from states would be put toward a “community reinvestment fund” that would support community centers as well as employment training and reentry services for rehabilitating people who have been previously incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses.

Booker’s bill is far from the first time a federal lawmaker has proposed ending the federal ban on marijuana. Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed a similar bill in 2015 that never garnered enough support, while Republican Congressman Tom Garrett introduced his own legislation earlier this year that is also not expected to make it to law. (Much like Sanders, Booker has been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate for 2020.) Despite some bipartisan support in Congress for updates to the nation’s marijuana laws, Congress is currently controlled by Republican lawmakers, many of whom do not support removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

President Donald Trump expressed support for medical marijuana on the campaign trail, but his administration has hinted at a possible crackdown on the growing number of U.S. states that have legalized marijuana sales in some form. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made no secret of his contempt for marijuana use, and his Department of Justice is on the verge of releasing a report that many in the burgeoning legal cannabis industry fear will propose prosecuting people engaging in marijuana sales—even if they are in states that have legalized the drug locally.

Responding to questions during his live session on Facebook, Sen. Booker commented on reports that Sessions could go after the legal cannabis industry. “Sessions is a problem and dangerous . . . to our citizens, especially people of color,” Booker said. The senator added that his bill currently has no co-sponsors in Congress, but he’s hoping to get bipartisan support from other federal lawmakers. In 2015, Booker teamed up with fellow senators Rand Paul and Kirsten Gillibrand on proposed legislation to legalize just medical marijuana at the federal level.

While Booker’s new bill is also a long-shot, it comes at a time when more and more Americans are voicing support for marijuana legalization. Recent polls show that nearly all Americans believe that medical marijuana should be legal, while more than 60% believe the drug should be legal in all forms. In total, 29 states have legalized medical cannabis, while eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana for adult-use, with half of them doing so in November’s election. And, while the legal cannabis industry may need more lawmakers like Booker to support it in the face of federal opposition, the industry is already growing fast, with more than $6 billion in estimated legal sales last year and projections that it could reach $50 billion in value within a decade.

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