Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced in the U.S. Senate

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For quite some time, state after state has been legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana or allowing its use for medical purposes. To date, 26 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in some form, with Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota joining the ranks of the states allowing medical marijuana just this year.

Unfortunately, there is just one problem. While more than half the states in the country see marijuana one way, the federal government still lists cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic under the federal Controlled Substances Act. This disconnect between the state and federal views on marijuana has managed to create problems with regard to state legalization efforts. This is because, while state law may allow and highly regulate the growing, distribution and the transportation of marijuana within the state, transportation across state lines creates a federal problem. For example, the state of Kansas has been very vocal for years about the tendency for people to buy legal marijuana in Colorado and bring it into or through their state illegally.

Also, because of federal banking regulations, it has been difficult for businesses that grow and/or sell cannabis to get a bank account, which creates a problem when it comes to paying employees. For a while, the Obama Administration relaxed enforcement of those rules when it came to legal marijuana businesses, but there are signs the current Attorney General Jeff Sessions intends to crack down on legal marijuana.

Despite that, he may be going against an incredibly fast-moving electoral train. There are signs the blanket federal prohibition on marijuana sales might be coming to an end. One sign is that Cory Booker, the Senator from New Jersey, yesterday introduced the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017. If passed into law, it would take marijuana out of Schedule I, which would allow states to regulate it themselves. The bill would also punish those states that continue to incarcerate people for marijuana possession and sale. It would also deny federal funding to states with disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates for marijuana-related offenses. Entities would also be entitled to sue those states with disproportionate incarceration rate.

If passed, the law would allow for expungement of federal convictions related to marijuana and it would allow for re-sentencing hearings for those incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses. The bill also would establish a Community Reinvestment Fund of at least $500 million, which would provide for grants go to those communities most affected by the war on drugs.

Of course, since this legislation was just introduced yesterday, it has a long way to go before it can become law. It will likely face a lot of opposition. As noted, Attorney General Sessions has previously called for increased prosecution of federal marijuana crimes, including stiffer penalties. That said, the electorate seems more ready than ever to accept marijuana as legal. In fact, an April Quinnipiac University poll showed that 60 percent of Americans supported full marijuana legalization, while 94 percent favored medical marijuana. In the same poll, 76 percent of Americans favored removing marijuana from Schedule I and 73 percent opposed increased federal enforcement of marijuana laws.