With over two dozen states voting to legalize some form of marijuana, state
legislators have been lobbying Washington to revise or repeal the federal
government’s Schedule 1 classification for cannabis and cannabis
related products. While many D.C. lawmakers have heard the call, it appears
one has taken a bold step to force Congress’ hand in the matter.
Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) has introduced a bill calling for an end to the
federal prohibition of marijuana, making it easier for states that have
legalized marijuana to support cannabis businesses. The Marijuana Justice
Act calls for removing cannabis from the Schedule I narcotics list, known
as “descheduling.” The law would also punish states that “disproportionately”
lock up minorities for marijuana offenses by withholding federal dollars
targeted for the building of jails and prisons.
During a Facebook Live event, Booker said, "You see these marijuana
arrests happening so much in our country, targeting certain communities
– poor communities, minority communities – targeting people
with an illness."
Senator Booker also claimed that states which have legalized marijuana
are seeing positive results, as their legislatures push through regulations
and licensing requirements. "They're actually seeing positive
things coming out of that experience," said the New Jersey senator.
"Now I believe the federal government should get out of the illegal
Cannabis groups are praising the proposal, saying that they hope it changes
the dialog in Washington about the criminality associated with pot.
However, with the country mired in an opioid crisis and midterm elections
on the horizon, many lawmakers are reluctant to jump into a public debate
about the decriminalization of marijuana. The legislation faces an uphill
battle, with even some Democrats being wary of staking a pro position
for this fight.
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, California Senator Dianne
Feinstein said she has concerns about the safety of marijuana. “I
think we need to be concerned about young people, without judgment, particularly
in cars. Particularly on Saturday night, smoking marijuana, candidly," she said.
In an interview, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she does not
support a federal effort to deschedule marijuana, claiming it would send
a negative signal to America that using drugs is acceptable behavior.
As the implementation date for legalization quickly approaches for several
states, some members of Congress are urging debate on the matter sooner
rather than later. Colorado Republican Cory Gardner says Congress needs
to take up the issue now. "It's a conversation that Congress
has to have. We should have committee hearings and we should have legislative
debate on it. More and more states are answering this question on their
own, and it's going to result in this sort of pell-mell collection
of states defying federal law, and that has consequences."
According to industry experts, the legislation would address a number of
challenges currently facing cannabis businesses. Namely, descheduling
the drug would pave the way for access to banking services and could provide
a standardized regulation and licensing process.
With over 60% of Americans favoring federally legalized marijuana, and
more than a dozen related bills making their way through Congress, it
appears that the time may be finally right for updated federal marijuana
legislation, even if it is a different form than that which Senator Booker