Booker plans Senate hearing to address marijuana laws’ harm to Black residents

Published: Jul. 20, 2022

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, who has argued for years that cannabis laws disproportionately hurt minority communities, plans to hold a hearing on the subject Tuesday.

Booker, who chairs the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on criminal justice and counterterrorism, has titled the hearing, “Decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level: Necessary steps to address past harms.”

No witnesses have been announced yet and the hearing will be held around the time Booker, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have said they plan to introduce comprehensive legislation on cannabis.

The New Jersey Democrat is the first Black senator to chair a Judiciary subcommittee.

Booker has said that more than half of all drug arrests involve marijuana, and Black people are almost four times more likely to be arrested than white people even though they use cannabis at the same rate.

Earlier this month, Booker and five other Senate Democrats asked President Joe Biden to use its existing powers to remove cannabis from the list of Schedule I drugs, which also includes heroin, and to pardon all individuals convicted of nonviolent marijuana crimes.

Ending the federal ban on marijuana would allow states to legalize cannabis without running afoul of U.S. law. Many, including New Jersey, have not waited for the federal government to act and allow sales of cannabis within their own borders.

Booker first introduced his Marijuana Justice Act in 2017, proposing to end the federal ban on cannabis. The latest goal of the new Senate cannabis legislation would be to both end the federal ban on marijuana and include restorative justice provisions to help minority individuals and communities hardest hit by the war on drugs.

The U.S. House twice has passed such legislation, but the Senate has yet to take up any bill.

Booker’s insistence that any cannabis legislation address social justice has stood in the way of efforts to pass some version of the Secure and Fair Enforcement, or SAFE, Banking Act, which would allow banks to offer credit cards, checking accounts and other financial services to legal marijuana businesses. They now operate largely in cash, making them prime targets for robberies or worse.

The House has passed SAFE Banking twice as stand-alone bills and has tried several other times to include it in unrelated legislation, including the bipartisan measure to encourage computer chip manufacturers to open plants in the U.S.

But Booker has expressed concern that the big-monied interests backing SAFE Banking will not be there to push for restorative justice once their priority is taken care of.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-07-21 03:36:41 -0700