Happening:

Seeing through the smoke


Christopher Gallagher

States rights for marijuana legalization? Enter Cory Booker

Ar 170809691
Alexi Grojean/Special to DGO
Ar 170809691
Alexi Grojean/Special to DGO

As 2017 rolls along and things get weirder, those of us paying attention to the details have reason, despite the bluster coming from the Justice Department, to feel good about some of the cannabis-related activities taking place in our nation’s capital. But despite Jeff Sessions’ Nouveau Reefer Madness attempts to connect nonexistent dots between cannabis and violent organized crime (though, in reality, nothing has eaten into the cartels’ profits in the way that legalization has), Congress voted to extend the protections of state cannabis programs by way of renewal the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment of 2014, a budgeting statute that does not allow the Department of Justice to spend money to prevent states from “implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

The growth of legal cannabis has spread nationwide since California’s 1996 passage of Proposition 215, the first medical marijuana statute. It now includes

Medical use in 29 states

Full recreational legalization in seven states and the District of Columbia (kind of, sort of )

CBD-only laws in 11 others

Given this, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970, passed by Richard Nixon in bad faith using bad science as its justification, looks worse than ever. Yet, it and its slotting of cannabis as a Schedule I substance, remains the American standard of law concerning all things cannabis related.

Enter Cory Booker into the fray.

The senator from New Jersey proposed legislation known as the Marijuana Justice Act (MJA) which seeks to completely remove cannabis from the CSA, an action that would take its governance out of the hands of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and leave states to make their own decisions regarding legislation involving cannabis. Booker’s proposal goes further than simply legalizing cannabis at the federal level. It recognizes the inherent racial and socioeconomic inequities of cannabis prohibition. It also seeks to deincentivise law enforcement agencies from continuing to apply the marijuana portion of the CSA in a manner that targets poor people and minorities by leveling the threat of withholding federal funds from states who “disproportionately arrest[s] or incarcerate[s] low-income individuals and people of color for marijuana-related offenses.” This is in response to the statistical reality that “Blacks are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites are, despite the fact that there’s no difference in marijuana use between the two groups,” according to Booker’s website.

The MJA goes further in recognizing the historical problems with cannabis arrests and sentencing by proposing automatic expungement of federal use and possession crimes, an option allowing current federal prisoners to appeal for resentencing, and by establishing a community reinvestment fund that will focus on job training, reentry services, expenses related to the expungement of convictions, public libraries, community centers, and programs and opportunities dedicated to youth and Health education programs, according to the bill.

Now the bad news: There is, essentially, zero chance that this bill will pass this year. But it is a great comfort to those of us who understand the inequities of the CSA that Booker, a relatively high profile lawmaker who is often mentioned in the discussion of potential presidential candidates, is willing to address the issues encompassed by federal cannabis prohibition and to challenge the current administration head on.

Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at chrstphrgallagher@gmail.com.