Yesterday we reported on the marijuana legalization bill New Jersey Senator Cory Booker recently introduced to Congress. And while most of the attention was, understandably, on the whole "legal cannabis" aspect, there's another important part of the bill that deserves attention, and it involves marijuana offenders already in prison.
As part of Booker's "Marijuana Justice Act of 2017," thousands of people in prison at both the state and federal level for marijuana possession would be released.
“Descheduling marijuana and applying that change retroactively to people currently serving time for marijuana offenses is a necessary step,” Booker said. His bill would "automatically expunge federal marijuana use and possession crimes" to help fix an unfair system.
Booker's proposal of freeing prisoners for marijuana crimes is actually more surprising than legalizing the drug itself. It's an issue that doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves. While marijuana advocates push legalization, there isn't as much effort put into helping those who've been unjustly punished for old archaic laws. There are approximately 40,000 people in the United States serving time for marijuana-related offenses, about half of whom are in prison solely for pot-related charges. As Booker points out, the majority of those inmates are minorities.
Unfortunately, Booker's bill may be dead-on-arrival in the Senate. Democratic Senator from California Dianne Feinstein told Rolling Stone that she's not in favor of the bill because she believes more research needs to be done on marijuana. Republican Senator from Maine Susan Collins also opposes legalization, and oddly cites America's opioid crisis.
“I do not support a national, a federal effort to decriminalize marijuana,” Collins said. “We're in the midst of an opioid crisis in this country and I think the last thing we need is for the federal government to send a signal that marijuana should be legalized across this country.”
Unfortunately, as long as so many senators still hold these old-fashioned (and largely ill-informed) views of marijuana, progressive efforts by people such as Cory Booker may remain exactly that: Efforts.