Five 2020 Democrats Back Sweeping Bill to Legalize Marijuana Nationwide and Aid Impacted Communities

Marijuana legalization advocates and members of community groups attend a rally against marijuana arrests in front of One Police Plaza on June 13, 2012 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Five 2020 Democrats Back Sweeping Bill to Legalize Marijuana Nationwide and Aid Impacted Communities

"The failed War on Drugs has really been a war on people—disproportionately criminalizing poor people, people of color, and people with mental illness."

Five senators who are running for president in the 2020 race are supporting what advocates praise as the most sweeping marijuana legalization measure ever considered by Congress.

"The failed War on Drugs has really been a war on people--disproportionately criminalizing poor people, people of color & people with mental illness. I'm reintroducing the #MarijuanaJustice Act to begin reversing our failed federal drug policies."
--Sen. Cory Booker

The Marijuana Justice Act, initially put forth two years ago, was reintroduced on Thursday by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). It is consponsored by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who are all seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), and Jeff Merkley (Ore.)--who is weighing a 2020 bid--are also backing the bill. Spearheading the companion legislation in the House are two Democrats from California: Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

Booker's bill would remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances and legalize it across the United States. However, several other provisions have generated excitement among drug policy experts and advocates for criminal justice reform.

The legislation would also expunge the criminal records of people with use and possession convictions, allow those who are currently incarcerated for marijuana-related crimes to petition for resentencing, and invest in community re-entry and job training programs.

Noting that black people are far more likely than their white peers to be arrested for marijuana possession in the United States, despite using it at similar rates, Booker pointed out in a Facebook post on Thursday that "a marijuana conviction is often a life sentence--people can't get jobs or many business licenses, and they can't get food assistance like SNAP or public housing if it's a felony."

In a series of tweets on his 2020 campaign account, the senator made clear that the measure aims to provide much-needed assistance to "areas hardest hit by the failed drug war--to make them more economically vibrant, fair, and just."

Celebrating the bill and those leading national efforts to overhaul decades of harmful federal policies, Queen Adesuyi of the Drug Policy Alliance toldMarijuana Moment on Thursday:

Cory Booker and Barbara Lee have single-handedly shifted the conversation in Congress on cannabis reform. The failures and harms caused by decades of cannabis prohibition, particularly the impact on low-income communities and communities of color, are undisputed... For decades, marijuana arrests, convictions, and subsequent collateral consequences have disrupted lives, which have also destroyed the social and economic fabric of certain communities. Now with Democrats in control of the House, it's time to right these wrongs and advance this conversation even further by passing cannabis reform that is centered on criminal justice reform and economic empowerment of impacted communities.

Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), concurred. "It is time for federal lawmakers to acknowledge this reality" that "communities of color have disproportionately suffered for decades because of our racist enforcement of marijuana laws," he said in a statement.

"It is time to stop ceding control of the marijuana market to untaxed criminal enterprises," Strekal added, "and for lawmakers to amend federal law in a manner that comports with available science, public opinion, and the rapidly changing cultural status of cannabis."

Booker, Lee, and Khanna discussed the legislation on Facebook Live Thursday:

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