Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley announced this week he is cosponsoring a bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level.
The Marijuana Justice Act, crafted by Merkley and Sen. Cory Booker, would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances. Currently, it is listed as a Schedule 1 substance — among the worst illegal, addictive and worthless drugs available.
Merkley has been working with the Senate with several marijuana-related issues, including changing laws so those in the business can work with banks and credit card companies and no longer on an all-cash basis, and to allow Veterans Administration doctors to advise their patients about the use of medicinal pot in states that allow it.
Oregon voters have legalized both medicinal and recreational marijuana.
“More than half of the United States has enacted legislation allowing for either medical or adult-use of cannabis, yet federal law remains in conflict,” Merkley said. “This creates significant problems, not only with the prosecution of nonviolent cannabis crimes — which disproportionately hurts people of color — but also with lack of banking services for legally operating businesses. This bill would place cannabis legalization in the hands of states — exactly where it should be.”
Booker said he was “thrilled” Merkley is joining the efforts.
“The War on Drugs has been a war on people — and most often people of color and low-income individuals,” he said. “I have seen firsthand the ways these policies have harmed neighborhoods, and I know that far too many innocent people have their futures destroyed by the disproportionate enforcement of these laws.
“It’s time for us to abandon the destructive federal prohibition of marijuana and focus our energy on righting the wrongs of the War on Drugs and prioritizing public safety and human potential.”
Merkley is the fifth Senator to cosponsor the Senate bill, along with Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, Kamala Harris, D-California and Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont. Additionally, Reps. Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna, both Democrats from California, introduced a companion measure in the House of Representatives earlier this year that has 35 cosponsors.
In addition to removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances, the bill would encourage states “through federal funds,” to change their marijuana laws if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income individuals or people of color. The bill is retroactive and would apply to those already serving time behind bars for marijuana-related offenses, providing for a judge’s review of marijuana sentences.
It will automatically expunge federal marijuana use and possession crimes, allow those in federal prison for pot use or possession to petition the court for a resentencing and create a reinvestment fund for communities most affected by the War on Drugs.
That money would be spent on job training, reentry to society, health education, criminal record expungement costs, public libraries, community centers, youth programs and education.