A Huge Marijuana Legalization Bill Is Back On The Cards In Congress

Protesters rally in support of the legalization of marijuana in front of the White House in Washington DC on April 2, 2016. Rena Schild/Shutterstock

Presidential hopeful Cory Booker is letting loose a new federal marijuana legalization bill that hopes to end the federal government's long prohibition on pot. 

The Marijuana Justice Act is being spearheaded by Booker, Democratic Senator for New Jersey, along with Representatives Barbara Lee (D-California), Ro Khanna (D-California), and a number of co-sponsors, including Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders. Beto O'Rourke, another potential presidential candidate, has also expressed support for the federal legalization of marijuana this week. 

Not only does the bill look to make marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) legal at the federal level, but the legislation will also retroactively expunge the criminal records of people sentenced under marijuana possession laws.

The Senate bill was first put forward by Booker in 2017 but it failed in the upper chamber of Congress. While it’s too early to say how far this bill will go, the wider push for drug policy reform, especially marijuana legalization or decriminalization, has gained further momentum since the last time it was introduced to Congress.

Since 2012, 10 states and Washington DC have legalized some amount of marijuana for recreational use. At least 33 states plus DC also allow the use of medical marijuana. 

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“The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs, it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals,” Booker said in a statement. “The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of this unfair, unjust, and failed policy by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances and making it legal at the federal level.

"We must also repair the damage caused by reinvesting in those communities that have been most harmed by the War on Drugs. And we must expunge the records of those who have served their time," he added.

"The end we seek is not just legalization, it's justice."

Much of this rhetoric is in line with the wealth of evidence-based research and statistics on the matter. In a series of articles published in the British Medical Journal in 2016, researchers called for doctors and other medical professionals to take the lead on designing a new global drug policy because “the war on drugs has failed”. They argue that prohibition and stigma encourage less safe drug use and that this drug use should ultimately be treated as a social health issue, not a criminal problem.

While the Marijuana Justice Act is primarily concerned with the social effects of marijuana prohibition, legalization could help to pave the way towards more research into the medicinal benefits of the drug. Just last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) proposed downgrading cannabis under international law for the first time, in light of the growing evidence regarding its medicinal benefits.

The legalization of marijuana is also a policy that’s supported by around six in 10 Americans (62 percent), according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.

Bernie Sanders added: "We must end the absurd situation of marijuana being listed as a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin. It is time to decriminalize marijuana, expunge past marijuana convictions and end the failed war on drugs."

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