Senator Booker Introduces Federal Bill To Decriminalize And Reschedule Marijuana

August 16, 2017
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What Cannabis Businesses Need to Know About Sen. Booker’s Marijuana Legislation

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker made national headlines when he recently introduced legislation to decriminalize marijuana on the federal level. Unlike prior efforts to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the proposed bill also encourages states to pursue full legalization.

Photo courtesy of Stocksnap.io

“This is the single most far-reaching marijuana bill that’s ever been filed in either chamber of Congress,” Tom Angell, head of the pro-legalization Marijuana Majority, said in a statement. “More than just getting the federal government out of the way so that states can legalize without DEA harassment, this new proposal goes even further by actually punishing states that have bad marijuana laws.”

Removing Cannabis from Controlled Substances Act

As discussed in prior articles, marijuana remains a Class I substance under the CSA. The classification is reserved for drugs with “high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and no accepted safety for use in medically supervised treatment.” Other Class I drugs include Heroin, LSD, and cocaine. Notably, nicotine and alcohol are not included on the list at all.

The Marijuana Justice Act would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances and, thereby, make it legal on the federal level. Removing marijuana from Schedule I would allow banks and other financial institutions to more freely service marijuana-related businesses. It would also allow marijuana businesses to take tax deductions similar to those enjoyed in other industries. The change would also provide greater clarity to employers and workers who struggle to determine how to address positive drug tests for marijuana.

Encouraging State-Level Marijuana Legalization

Sen. Booker’s bill is unique in that it incentivizes states to change their marijuana laws. States could lose federal criminal justice funds if marijuana in the state is illegal and the state disproportionately arrests or incarcerates low-income individuals and people of color for marijuana-related offenses.

The provision reflects the fact that people of color are disproportionately arrested for marijuana-related crimes even though their use rates are similar to those of white Americans. In 2015, the Sentencing Project estimated that black Americans are 3.7 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as their white counterparts, despite being only 1.3 times as likely to use pot.

Accordingly, the Marijuana Justice Act would automatically expunge federal marijuana use and possession crimes. It would also allow an individual currently serving time in federal prison for marijuana use or possession crimes to petition a court for a resentencing;

“Our country’s drug laws are badly broken and need to be fixed,” Senator Booker said in a press statement. “They don’t make our communities any safer – instead they divert critical resources from fighting violent crimes, tear families apart, unfairly impact low-income communities and communities of color, and waste billions of taxpayer dollars each year.

The Marijuana Justice Act is a longshot in the Republican-held Congress. It is also unlikely to garner the support of President Donald Trump, who has encouraged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reignite the so-called “War on Drugs.” Nonetheless, the fact that the ambitious marijuana legislation was even proposed highlights that public and political support for full legalization is growing, which is good news for the cannabis industry.

This article is a part of a series pertaining to cannabis legalization in New Jersey and the United States at large. Prior articles in this series are below:

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Dan McKillop, at 201-806-3364.

Disclaimer: Possession, use, distribution, and/or sale of cannabis is a Federal crime and is subject to related Federal policy. Legal advice provided by Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC is designed to counsel clients regarding the validity, scope, meaning, and application of existing and/or proposed cannabis law. Scarinci Hollenbeck, LLC will not provide assistance in circumventing Federal or state cannabis law or policy, and advice provided by our office should not be construed as such.