The new congressional bill "Marijuana Justice Act of 2017" seeks to remove the federal prohibition of cannabis and offer reparations to those most impacted by the war on drugs.
The bill introduced by the New Jersey Senator, Democrat Cory Booker on Tuesday was received well both by the medical community and advocacy groups.
One of its measures is to hold the state and prisons accountable by cutting the federal funding if a state disproportionately arrests and/or incarcerates low-income individuals and/or people of color for marijuana offenses.
Between 1994 and 2012, 59 percent of incarcerated in federal prisons for marijuana offenses were Hispanic or Latino, while 13.9 percent were Black, according to a 2015 Bureau of Justice Statistics analysis. White Americans were incarcerated for the same crimes at a much lower rate.
Queen Adesuyi, the policy associate for Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement, “From disparate marijuana-related arrests and incarceration rates to deportations and justifications for police brutality – the war on drugs has had disparate harm on low-income communities and communities of color. It’s time to rectify that."
The bill aims to create US$500 million worth of “Community Reinvestment Fund” to invest in communities most impacted by the war on drugs, with rehabilitation programs such as job training, reentry, community centers, etc. Part of the funding will come from the cuts to state law enforcement and prison construction.
Marijuana has been legalized in 29 states and D.C., it has been approved for recreational use in eight states, but at the federal level, according to the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, Marijuana is a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.
Some of the other measures introduced under the community-oriented bill include preventing deportations owing to marijuana offenses, provide a mechanism for expunging and resentencing for marijuana offenses at the federal level.
“These marijuana arrests are targeting poor and minority communities, [and] targeting our veterans. We see the injustice of it all," Booker continued. “I have seen young teenagers getting arrested, saddled with criminal convictions for the rest of their lives.”
“In New Jersey, marijuana prohibition has disproportionately harmed communities of color,” Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement.
"In our state, African Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites even though both use marijuana at similar rates," Scotti said. "Anecdotal evidence suggests similar disparities for Latinos. Marijuana legalization on the federal and state level must be fair and equitable and must repair past harms to communities of color. It is time to right the wrongs of prohibition."
According to American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, U.S. spends nearly US$3.6 billion enforcing marijuana laws annually. The civil rights non-profit noted 88 percent of nearly 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010 were for simply possessing the drug.
John Malanca, co-founder of United Patients Group, told Forbes, that the bill's proposed changes to the federal treatment of cannabis will help thousands of patients.
"We work with thousands of patients across the country who use medical cannabis to address serious conditions and alleviate needless suffering. Even though a grassroots movement has led to medical access in 29 states, federal recognition is key, and Sen. Booker’s legislation is long overdue."
Malanca said the bill will open "the floodgates of investment for entrepreneurs to innovate and bring to the market safer, more effective treatment options, rigorous and standardized testing can be conducted at the federal level, and that marketers of cannabis products will have to validate their claims."
He added, "For patients and their families, that can only be good news."
Jeff Sessions, U.S Attorney General has announced to further tighten the ropes on the war on drugs over the past few months.
In a May letter addressed to the Congress, Sessions urged leading members of the Congress to remove federal protections that prevent the Department of Justice from cracking down on medical marijuana patients.
Sessions said the law would "inhibit [his department's] authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act."