Saturday, 23 September 2017

Cory Booker Marijuana Bill Deserves Progressive Support

Cory Booker Marijuana Bill Deserves Progressive Support

Sen. Cory Booker introduced legislation that would legalize marijuana, expunge federal marijuana convictions and penalize states with racially-disparate arrest or incarceration rates for marijuana-related crimes, the Washington Post reports. Specifically, Booker intends the legislation to address racial disparities created and perpetuated by the failed war on drugs. The Cory Booker marijuana legislation is seen as a stretch, but the time may be ripe for drug reform.

More, a 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that while whites and minorities consumed marijuana at roughly the same rates, blacks and Latinos accounted for nearly 80% of marijuana possession arrests. The terribly unjust rate is four times higher than whites.

The Marijuana Justice Act

Like legislation introduced in 2015 by Bernie Sanders, the Cory Booker marijuana bill would completely remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act. Marijuana is currently listed as a Schedule I drug. The same level as heroin and acid. Crystal meth, a Schedule II drug, is considered less dangerous under federal law. It is worth noting that in 2015, Booker favored a more gradual approach — moving marijuana down to Schedule II. Though he now says marijuana reform is an urgent issue:

“Our country’s drug laws are badly broken and need to be fixed. They don’t make our communities any safer—instead they divert critical resources from fighting violent crimes, tear families apart, unfairly impact low-income communities and communities of color and waste billions in taxpayer dollars each year.”

But Booker’s bill does more than reclassify marijuana. It would withhold criminal justice funding from states that maintain archaic marijuana laws. Additionally, the State must exhibit racially disparate arrest or incarceration rates.

The Cory Booker marijuana legislation would effectively encourage states to legalize marijuana, if they haven’t already, to avoid penalties. Funds withheld from states would be pooled toward a “Community Reinvestment Fund”. The fund would also receive a separate $500 million annually. The fund would be used to “establish a grant program to reinvest in communities most affected by the war on drugs”. Re-investments include job-training programs, criminal re-entry assistance, public libraries, community centers, youth programs and health education services.

The bill would also create a process for expunging federal marijuana convictions and re-sentencing people currently serving time for federal marijuana offenses.

Re-wrapped Reparations

The Cory Booker marijuana bill is as progressive as it gets. The bill addresses systemic problems and funds economic infrastructure where it is most needed. The only thing I can think of that could make this bill more progressive is if people who served time for marijuana possession were given reparations in wages for their time behind bars. But the bill does provide a glimmer of reparations, albeit cloaked in a the veil of prison and drug reform.

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The penalty paid by states who do not change their marijuana laws will go directly to communities most affected by the war on drugs. As we know, communities of color have suffered the most during the so-called war. Therefore, they would deserve the majority of community investments created by the bill. To me, this is a reparations of sort – which I support in this form and in many others.

The Movement for Black Lives lists reparations as a primary policy objective in their platform. In their first point defining this policy objective, the group mentions opportunities for the formerly incarcerated,  technical education, and community education programs – all issues addressed specifically by Booker’s bill.

Additionally, Queen Adesuyi, policy associate at the Drug Policy Alliance, has vocally supported the legislation. “This bill is the most ambitious marijuana bill we have seen in Congress,” she continues, “Uniquely, it recognizes the fact that people of color have borne the brunt of the failed war on drugs and seeks to repair the damage done. We applaud Senator Booker for his leadership on this issue.”

But Cory Booker is not a Progressive

Look, I hear you. When Booker voted against Bernie Sander’s Canadian pharmaceutical bill, he showed his true colors by siding with his donors. Cory Booker is an establishment Democrat, but that doesn’t mean his heart isn’t in the right place on marijuana and prison reform. And he has some history at his back.

While serving as mayor of Newark, he created the city’s first office of prisoner re-entry to help people re-integrate into their communities after being released from jail or prison. That’s progressive, right? And he’s tried to address marijuana before, right?

More so, the bill has support from marijuana advocacy groups. “This is the single most far-reaching marijuana bill that’s ever been filed in either chamber of Congress,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group. “More than just getting the federal government out of the way so that states can legalize without DEA harassment, this new proposal goes even further by actually punishing states that have bad marijuana laws.”

““This is the single most far-reaching marijuana bill that’s ever been filed in either chamber of Congress.”

Cory Booker isn’t the best torch bearer for Progressives (understatement much?). But his intent seems real and the bill is definitely progressive. To be clear, Progressives should avoid the Cory Booker 2020 train. But there is no reason why Progressives shouldn’t throw their full support at his marijuana legislation. And yet, progressive media has hardly covered the bill. Sure, it may lose, but it could also send a strong message to Democrats: If you write progressive legislation, you will get progressive support. That’s how influence is built. Right now, Progressives are missing their opportunity to make that point. And they are missing their opportunity to build influence.

 

Ryan Black is a documentary filmmaker, political consultant, and digital media professional who writes about Progressive Politics.

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