Five months after New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker introduced comprehensive legislation to legalize marijuana and expunge federal marijuana-related convictions, Reps. Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna will introduce a companion bill in the House.
Lee and Khanna, both California Democrats, have 12 cosponsors for their “Marijuana Justice Act,” which they said will stop arrests of nonviolent offenders in minority and low-income communities.
“This legislation will end this destructive war on drugs. We intend to do that,” Lee said Wednesday during a nearly 40-minute conference call. “This bill is really an essential step in correcting the injustices of the failed war and drugs … mainly, the racial disparities in marijuana and incarceration.”
The act proposes several steps on the federal level:
• Removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances and making it legal at the federal level;
• Restructuring sentences for those currently serving time for marijuana offenses; and
• Withholding some federal money toward criminal justice from states that haven’t legalized marijuana or have rates of arrests and incarceration that disproportionately affect people of color and those in low-income neighborhoods.
Booker, who also participated on the call, said any money withheld from states would go into a “Community Reinvestment Fund” for job-training programs, assisting returning citizens, health education and other programs in underserved communities
Khanna said legalizing the marijuana industry nationwide would produce an estimated $40 billion, $7 billion in taxes and one million jobs.
“This is actually a mass gain for the government,” he said. “A mass gain for job creation and makes economic sense. It’s not just talking about legalization. It’s [about] giving people a real second chance by getting rid of that criminal past that is stifling the opportunity of the future.”
The bill doesn’t focus on investment streams for businesses, but Booker said “when something becomes profitable, suddenly you see a lot of folks being squeezed out. It’s a harder pathway for women and minorities to get a fair seat at the table.”
That sentiment was echoed in a long-awaited disparity study released Wednesday from the state of Maryland regarding the medical marijuana industry.
Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the report after Black lawmakers noticed none of the current 14 companies licensed to grow cannabis.
Although the medical marijuana law passed in 2014, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission didn’t consider race during the approval process, unless disparities became evident.
Legislation failed to get approval last year, and the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus has made it one of its top priorities in Annapolis for this year’s session.
According to the state’s consultant, Jon Wainwright of Austin, Texas-based NERA Consulting, he found widespread disparities in business opportunities for minorities in Maryland can be relevant in the medical cannabis industry.
“These disparities, in general, are large, adverse, and statistically significant,” Wainwright stated in the document. “In addition, the 2017 Disparity Study contains both qualitative and quantitative evidence to suggest that economy-wide contracting disparities in Maryland’s relevant markets are even greater than disparities in the public sector.”