Many people thought they would never see the day, but New Jersey Senator Corey Booker seeks to implement new legislation that could take marijuana off of the government’s list of Schedule I narcotics and help speed the legalization progress across the country.
The new bill, known as the Marijuana Justice Act, not only seeks to decriminalize marijuana, but it also hopes to impose penalties upon states that disproportionately target certain communities for drug related offenses and set up a fund designed to help improve the quality of life in areas most hard hit by the war on drugs. “You see these marijuana arrests happening so much in our country, targeting certain communities – poor communities, minority communities – targeting people with an illness,” Booker announced via Facebook Live. Should this bill pass, Booker promises that those groups will “actually see positive things coming out of that experience.”
In order to bring about these sought after improvements, the bill proposes that the government set aside up to a half billion dollars in what would be known as a “Community Reinvestment Fund.” This money would then go directly into job training programs, public libraries, and a variety of other endeavors designed to help rehabilitate areas of the country that need assistance the most.
“This is the single most far-reaching marijuana bill that’s ever been filed in either chamber of Congress,” Tom Angell, founder of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority, told the press. “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. Polls increasingly show growing majority voter support for legalization, so this is something that more senators should be signing on to right away.”
Despite this support, however, the bill is not expected to pass through the Republican dominated Congress, and opponents have already begun to appear out of the woodwork to fight against it. ““Given the opioid epidemic, Booker’s legislative energy would be much better spent implementing solutions to that crisis,” Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana told reporters shortly after news of the bill was made public. And it is not only Republicans and anti-marijuana campaigners who stand ready to strike down the pending legislation either.
“I’m not there. I think there’s a lot about marijuana we don’t know,” California Sen. Dianne Feinstein told journalists at Rolling Stone. “I think marijuana has potential dangers to it. I think they need to be looked at – calibrated. I think we need to be concerned about young people, without judgement, particularly in cars. Particularly on Saturday night, smoking marijuana, candidly.”
This kind of opposition, however, flies in the face of recent scientific findings, and according to a report by NBC News, “Hospitalization rates for opioid painkiller dependence and abuse fell 23 percent on average in states where pot was allowed for medicinal purposes, according to the study published earlier this year in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. And hospitalization rates for opioid overdoses dropped 13 percent on average.” So perhaps, if politicians were so concerned about the opioid epidemic as they seem to be, they might want to investigate marijuana as a safer alternative, rather than continuing to fight a losing battle against it.
And while this bill is not likely to pass, there is still hope for the future. Sen. Booker is a frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nominee, and if he continues to push forth such a progressive agenda, it seems like that much sought after dream of nationwide legalization might not be that far away after all.