Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Drug Policy - Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 - Senator Cory Booker Introduces Act to Repair the Harms Exacted by Marijuana Prohibition

Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Drug Policy - Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 - Senator Cory Booker Introduces Act to Repair the Harms Exacted by Marijuana Prohibition

Article excerpt

DRUG POLICY--MARIJUANA JUSTICE ACT OF 2017--SENATOR CORY BOOKER INTRODUCES ACT TO REPAIR THE HARMS EXACTED BY MARIJUANA PROHIBITION.--Marijuana Justice Act of 2017, S. 1689, 115th Cong.

Marijuana's prohibition and gradual legalization in the United States has had a significant economic impact on those left in its wake. on one hand, the punitive approach to marijuana use taken by local and state law enforcement agencies has had pernicious economic consequences for low-income and minority individuals and communities. (1) On the other, marijuana has shown itself to be a profitable cash crop in states that have legalized it, (2) and has represented a multibillion-dollar state-sanctioned industry to a newly minted class of entrepreneurs. (3) Recently, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey has attempted to address this stark disparity by introducing the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017, (4) a bill that would legalize marijuana at the federal level. (5) While other bills introduced in recent years have proposed removing marijuana from the federal "schedule" (6) of illicit drugs, (7) none have so directly addressed the inequities exacerbated and created by marijuana prohibition. The bill's most unique provisions punish states that disproportionately arrest low-income and minority individuals, (8) and provide for a Community Reinvestment Fund intended to fund community development projects in neighborhoods hardest hit by prohibition. (9) Senator Booker's focus on repairing the vast harms exacted by marijuana prohibition signals an important moment in the conversation surrounding legalization. While holding promise for those interested in repairing these harms, the impact of a reparatory legalization (10) effort like Senator Booker's will hinge on the details of its implementation--specifically, marijuana's regulation and the attendant distribution of the wealth generated from the newly legal markets. Without addressing these issues, well-intentioned efforts like Senator Booker's leave behind a key tool for reckoning with the legacy of the war on drugs (11) and may deepen the inequality exacerbated by marijuana prohibition.

In his August 2017 announcement of the bill, Senator Booker lamented the noxious effect of marijuana prohibition on the long-term economic prospects of those within disproportionately affected minority and low-income communities. (12) He cited the "collateral consequences" of arrest and incarceration, including the inability to secure employment or business licenses, as well as disqualification from government benefits like public housing, food stamps, and Pell Grants. (13) Senator Booker's anecdotal observations bear out in the data: the interlocking patchwork of local and federal marijuana prohibition has proven to have dire consequences for poor and minority individuals and communities. According to a 2013 American Civil Liberties Union report, between 2001 and 2010, there were over eight million marijuana-related arrests in the United States. (14) Eighty-eight percent of these arrests were for simple possession. (15) Unsurprisingly, the racialized history of state and federal efforts to enact marijuana prohibition (16) has borne out in the racially disparate impact of arrests. Despite persistent findings that rates of marijuana usage among white and black Americans are roughly equivalent, the national arrest rate for blacks for marijuana possession was 3.73 times higher than the arrest rate for whites in 2010. (17)

What's more, our nation's carceral framework has had implications for economic inequality at both the individual and communal level. Data has shown that the mark of a criminal record attaches negative employment and wage effects. (18) The high rate of black incarceration has contributed to lower labor force participation among blacks. (19)

Against this backdrop, Americans have come to recognize the need for legalizing marijuana. Eight states--four of them in the last year--have legalized recreational marijuana. …

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