As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, marijuana, whether used for medicinal or recreational purposes, is classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The CSA prohibits the manufacturing, distributing, dispensing or possession of certain controlled substances, including marijuana and marijuana-based products and services. In addition, the CSA makes it unlawful to sell, offer for sale or use any facility of interstate commerce to transport illegal substances, including marijuana.
In August 2017, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced bills to both chambers of Congress – the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 – that seek to remove marijuana completely from the list of controlled substances, making it legal at the federal level.
Last year U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-CA) was the first senator to co-sponsor the Marijuana Justice Act. On Wednesday, February 14, 2018, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced that she is also co-sponsoring the Marijuana Justice Act to end the federal prohibition on marijuana.
“Legalizing marijuana is a social justice issue and a moral issue that Congress needs to address, and I’m proud to work with Sen. Booker on this legislation to help fix decades of injustice caused by our nation’s failed drug policies,” Gillibrand said in a statement.
The Marijuana Justice Act aims to implement a number of reforms relating to marijuana. The most significant reform would be the removal of marijuana from the list of controlled substances in the CSA. Such a reform would effectively end the federal criminalization of marijuana.
Other reforms proposed by the Marijuana Justice Act include: (1) providing incentives to states to reduce racial disparities in connection with arrests made for marijuana; (2) expunging federal convictions relating to marijuana possession; (3) allowing individuals serving time in federal prison for marijuana-related offenses to petition the court for resentencing; and (4) developing a community reinvestment fund to invest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs, such as by providing in-job training programs, educational opportunities, public libraries and community centers.
There is growing support for removal of marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the CSA, especially as courts have recently held that only the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) can make such a change.
Most recently, on February 26, 2018, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan ruled dismissed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the United States’ prohibition of marijuana on the grounds that the ban was unconstitutional. Judge Hellerstein ruled that the lawsuit must be dismissed because the plaintiffs had failed to use administrative procedures within the DEA to challenge the ban. Judge Hellerstein said his decision “should not be understood as a factual finding that marijuana lacks any medical use in the United States,” but, rather, that the authority to make that decision lies with the DEA, not with the court.
As of now the Marijuana Justice Act has not seen much movement in Congress. Since its introduction it has been read twice and then referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. It will be interesting to see if additional senators act to support the Marijuana Justice Act as the debate over the decriminalization of marijuana continues.