High-ranking Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) just signed onto a marijuana legalization bill that would turn the War on Drugs against itself. The bill, which was introduced last summer by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (D), would punish states that uphold prohibition.
Like other legalization bills we've seen recently, Senator Booker's Marijuana Justice Act would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and allow states to regulate it like alcohol. On top of that, Booker's bill would also withhold money from states that choose to uphold prohibition. A measure that would essentially reverse the War on Drugs.
"The 1994 crime bill incentivized states to ramp up the War on Drugs, to double-down on mandatory minimums, to build more prisons," Senator Booker said last night during a Facebook Live chat with Senator Wyden. "The Marijuana Justice Act creates the reverse incentives. It incentivizes states to decriminalize marijuana."
It creates those incentives by withholding federal funding from states upholding marijuana laws that disproportionately punish minorities, the poor, people with mental illness and others who have been unfairly impacted by the drug war.
"This prohibition effort that's been going on for years and years has been destructive to many neighborhoods," Booker explained. "It's been targeting different communities differently. You have wild disparities in incarceration. If you just use race as one lens, there's no difference between blacks and whites for using marijuana, but blacks are almost four times more likely to be incarcerated for it. So we've gotta get out of the War on Drugs, which is really a war on people — a war on poor people a war on...minorities, a war on [the] mentally ill. And [we've got to] stop creating an environment where we're punishing good Americans."
To do that, his bill will punish states by withholding public funds, which would be invested in job training, education and other programs to rebuild communities destroyed by the drug war.
"This creates a pool of money to reinvest in...communities that have suffered disproportionately from marijuana enforcement," Booker said, adding that cannabis convictions are basically a "life sentence" because they hobble a person's social mobility. "Once you've got a criminal conviction, you can't get a Pell Grant, you can't get food stamps, you can't get many business licenses. [The bill] really focuses on rebuilding those communities [with] things like job training, education and more to repair what the drug war has done."
But none of that will happen without support from the public.
"It's gonna take a lot of work at the grassroots level for the community to [help] lawmakers on Capitol Hill catch up with where the public is with respect to marijuana," Senator Wyden added. "Political change doesn't start in Washington, DC and trickle down. It's bottoms up. It comes from the grassroots...So we want you to be loud, we want you to be outspoken, and we want you to support Senator Booker's legislation. I'm thrilled to be the first sponsor. There's gonna be plenty others."
But not many will be bigger than Senator Wyden, a ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, which means he's in perfect position to divert federal funding away from states that support prohibition.