The bill would be an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act and would remove cannabis from the federal Schedule I drug classification, as well as erase penalties for people importing, exporting, manufacturing, or possessing marijuana.
The Marijuana Justice Act would also restrict federal funding for any state that has a disproportionate arrest or incarceration rate for marijuana possession, a crime that disproportionately affects minority communities.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance would be tasked with monitoring these states. States that continue to abuse minority communities will have their state's federal funding withheld under the new bill.
The bill would also instruct the federal courts to expunge all marijuana possession convictions. Black people and minorities are arrested at a disproportionate rate for marijuana compared to Caucasians. The ACLU reports that black people are almost 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.
Lawmakers have also included funding in the bill to help communities affected by over-policing. The Treasury Community Reinvestment Fund will be for use by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to gives grants to the communities that have been devastated by the failed war on drugs.
NORML Says Democrats Supporting Legalization Is Smart Politics
The political director of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Justin Strekal, says that the leaders of the Democratic Party are realizing that their constituents have long suffered from marijuana prohibition and are in favor of legalization. He added that politicians are supporting legalization because they realize that doing so is smart politics.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is another sponsor of the bill, having added her support in February, as is Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who began his sponsorship last year. Former opposers of marijuana legalization are beginning to change their minds, with some even joining the marijuana industry. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner has joined the board of a marijuana company and has also called for the drug to be reclassified.
Sanders has been a supporter of marijuana legalization for years and started a petition on Feb. 8 called "Let States Make Marijuana Legal," requesting people to support marijuana legalization. The petition says that a person is arrested every minute for weed, noting that lives are forever ruined and that it needs to change now.
Booker, Gillibrand, and Sanders all Rumored as 2020 Presidential Hopefuls
Both Booker and Sanders are rumored to be running for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination, as is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
Sanders lost the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton in 2016 after his widespread campaign with a progressive agenda energized young people and attracted large crowds, according to BBC News. The senators all believe that legalizing marijuana is a social justice issue affecting millions and that Congress has a moral obligation to act.
Sanders is also a supporter of progressive causes and advocates for better Social Security retirement benefits. Sanders introduced a bill in 2017 that would require high-income earners to pay a larger share so that senior citizens making less than $16,000 would have another $1,300 of Social Security income per year.
At least 30 states and Washington, D.C., have now legalized medical marijuana, and polls show that the majority of Americans support legalization. At least 51 percent of Republicans support legalizing the drug. Independents favor legalization by 67 percent, and 72 percent of Democrats are in support of legalizing marijuana.