When Will Marijuana Be Legal Federally? Senator Cory Booker Introduces Bill That Would Deschedule Pot

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker introduced a new bill that would make marijuana federally legal
A woman walks with a sign supporting legalization of marijuana during the Democratic Convention on July 28, 2016. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has introduced a bill that would make marijuana legal at the federal level. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Marijuana would become legal at the federal level if Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has it his way. The lawmaker introduced a bill aiming to remove marijuana’s Schedule I listing under the Controlled Substance Act and make the plant legal. 

While the overall legislation seeks to make marijuana legal in all 50 states, the driving motivation behind Booker’s bill, called the Marijuana Justice Act, is to rectify the unjust targeting of African-American and low-income communities that have been most affected by marijuana arrests.

Citing a study conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union, Booker said black people are more than three times more likely to be arrested for use and possession of marijuana than whites. He suggested this has created devastating effects in urban areas and communities of color across the U.S., even though eight states currently allow adults to use, carry and purchase marijuana.

“For decades, the failed War on Drugs has locked up millions of nonviolent drug offenders—especially for marijuana-related offenses—at an incredible cost of lost human potential, torn apart families and communities, and taxpayer dollars. The effects of the drug war have had a disproportionately devastating impact on Americans of color and the poor,” Booker wrote in a statement on Facebook. “This is the right thing to do for public safety, and will help reduce our overflowing prison population.”

Along with declassifying pot and making the plant legal, Booker’s bill would retroactively expunge convictions for marijuana use and possession, as well as give those currently serving time on cannabis charges the chance to appeal to the courts and have their sentences reduced or eliminated.

“These are charges that follow people for the rest of their lives, making it difficult for them to do things that we take for granted, like applying for a taxi cab license—something you can’t get in many states even if your marijuana conviction was 10, 20, 30 years ago. Or people can’t vote in certain states because of their federal marijuana charge,” Booker said during a FacebookLive announcement of the bill.

The bill would also establish an incentive pool for communities that have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, allowing certain cities to apply for a reinvestment fund that would grant money to community programs for former marijuana offenders, including job training and re-entry services. The fund could also be used to invest in public libraries, community centers and youth programs, Booker said.

The odds of the bill passing in Congress are slim, Booker admitted, explaining that he was its only sponsor thus far. However, his bill isn’t the first aimed at making marijuana legal at the federal level.

In March, a number of U.S. representatives from Colorado and Oregon introduced the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which aimed to remove cannabis’s Schedule I listing and allow all pot to be sold and consumed in a manner similar to alcohol. The bill would also establish a marijuana tax and give researchers the opportunity to conduct more studies on the plant without the pressures of federal government oversight.