With national attitudes about marijuana changing, it's time something happens at the federal level.
On August 1, New Jersey's Senator Cory Booker introduced the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 to “amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide for a new rule regarding the application of the Act to marihuana and for other purposes.” Seriously, this prohibition is so old – the federal law was enacted in 1937 – that it was still spelled “marihuana.”
The bill would end the federal ban and leave the decision regarding cannabis' legality to the states. Tobacco and alcohol are already exempt under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Disproportionate Minority Incarceration
Booker's legislation not only addresses legalizing cannabis, but the disproportionate number of people of color arrested and convicted for marijuana possession, sales and use.
Although white people and those of color tend to use marijuana at similar rates, nonwhites are far more likely to find themselves arrested and incarcerated for relatively minor marijuana offenses.
“You see these marijuana arrests happening so much in our country, targeting certain communities — poor communities, minority communities — targeting people with an illness,” said Booker on Facebook.
In other posts, Booker added, “This is going to be a long battle, but it's the first step on a longer pathway toward economic justice, racial justice, more public safety and more common sense.”
He also comments on the “rank hypocrisy” of certain members of Congress who have at least tried marijuana.
Fortune Smiles Upon It
Fortune magazine, the international business publication with its “Fortune 500” and other numerical lists, supports Booker's efforts at marijuana reforms.
While this is an excellent bill, requiring the feds to finally let go of cannabis and let it be a “state's rights” issue, some people are already advocating against abdicating. Author Robert A. Mikos, a Vanderbilt University law professor and marijuana policy expert, argues that the feds shouldn't get rid of the laws without replacement legislation. He claims that various interstate issues could arise if the federal legislation is just taken off the books without being replaced by more laws, such as allowing 18 year olds to purchase and use marijuana; slashing marijuana taxes to impact neighboring states' revenues and adopting “confusing and conflicting labeling requirements.”
Mikos writes that some federal oversight is necessary, and that Americans want to know what replaces an outright federal repeal. He applauds Booker for starting the discussion, however, which Congress has basically avoided for decades.
Federal repeal could bring in much needed revenue to states, as has happened in those states which have legalized cannabis. In Colorado, marijuana tax dollars brought in $105 million in the last fiscal year, money now going to address housing issues, mental health problems of the incarcerated and health programs for young people.
However, marijuana entrepreneurs face problems opening bank accounts and getting business loans because of the federal status of their product. Since it's a cash-only business, they are a special risk for crime.
At the very least, repeal would allow this burgeoning market to experience the basics other businesses taken for granted, such as checking accounts and acceptance of credit and debit cards for transactions.
An Uphill Battle
There's no question Booker faces an uphill battle.
Even while state legalization of marijuana is increasing, it remains a Schedule I drug, on the same level as heroin.
Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, who appears to want to turn the clock back entire decades, may attempt to crack down on states legalizing cannabis. Sessions has already declared, “Good people don't smoke marijuana.” Since the AG's also a fan of tougher sentences for drug crimes and asset forfeiture, it's safe to assume he'd like marijuana sellers back in jail with the feds seizing their money rather than make cannabis a legal, tax-paying business.
His draconian policies have not just raised the ire of civil rights organizations, but that of many fellow Republicans, including Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and even the billionaire Koch brothers.
A Congress that modernly views its job as selling out the public to corporations and the Trump White House with Sessions as the top cop are unlikely to repeal current federal marijuana laws. Still, it's a discussion that's long overdue.
There's some hope – we've learned in the past year that anything can happen. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series and Donald Trump was elected president, so perhaps repeal and replacement of federal marijuana laws could get started.
Perhaps an entrepreneurial President will see the folly in cannabis prohibition on one hand and the financial incentive of repeal on the other hand.
At this point in time, there's little support outside of ultraconservative fanatics to keep current federal marijuana laws in place. It's not a question of if, but when, the change is going to come.
Stay tuned and kudos to Senator Cory Booker.