Booker Marijuana Provisions Pass House Judiciary Committee

2017 Booker bill provided framework for MORE Act

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Three key marijuana provisions designed to reverse decades of failed drug policy and first introduced by U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) passed the House Judiciary Committee today: record expungement, reinvestment in the communities most harmed by the War on Drugs, and removing marijuana from the list of deportable offenses.

Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act, originally introduced in 2017, was the first congressional bill to incorporate record expungement and community reinvestment with marijuana legalization. This legislation along with a Booker provision to remove marijuana from list of deportable offenses provided the framework for the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 (MORE) passed by the House today.

“This is a significant tipping point. The Committee passage of this bill is an important step towards reversing decades of failed drug policy that has disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income individuals. These draconian laws have sacrificed critical resources, violated our values, destroyed families and communities, and failed to make us safer,” Senator Booker said.This legislation continues us down the path towards justice and I’m excited to see momentum growing around the movement to fix our nation’s broken drug laws.”

Background on Booker’s leadership on issues of marijuana and criminal justice:

Booker has seen the effects of our broken marijuana laws first-hand, dating back to his time as a tenant lawyer, City Council member, and Mayor of Newark, where he created the city’s first office of prisoner re-entry to help formerly incarcerated individuals re-integrate into their communities. He is the author of the landmark Marijuana Justice Act, which would end the federal prohibition on marijuana, automatically expunge the records of those convicted of federal marijuana use and possession crimes, and reinvest resources into the communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs through a community fund. Since introducing the bill in 2017, Booker has garnered support from Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Ed Markey (D-MA).

In the Senate, Booker was an outspoken critic of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ effort to revive the failed War on Drugs. More recently, he pressed Attorney General William Barr on his stance on marijuana legalization and the rescission of the Cole memo, winning a commitment from Barr to leave states alone that have  legalized marijuana.

In addition to the Marijuana Justice Act, Booker is the co-author of the bipartisan CARERS Act, which would allow patients to access medical marijuana in states where it’s legal without fear of federal prosecution, and the bipartisan REDEEM Act, which would allow nonviolent drug offenders to petition a court to seal and expunge their drug offenses, while automatically sealing, and in some cases expunging, the nonviolent records of juveniles. These reforms would reduce a major barrier that formerly incarcerated individuals face when attempting to rejoin society. He is also a cosponsor of the Fair Chance Act, which prohibits the federal government and federal contractors from asking about the criminal history of a job applicant prior to a conditional offer of employment. Earlier this year, the Fair Chance Act passed out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Oversight and Government and Reform Committee. In June, Booker introduced legislation to remove marijuana from list of deportable offenses.

WinkInWeed: MJNN’s Exclusive Interview With WSWA EVP Dawson Hobbs

By David Rheins

The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) founded in 1943, has nearly 400 member companies in 50 states and the District of Columbia. It’s members distribute more than 80 percent of all wines and spirits sold at wholesale in the United States.  The association made news this week by endorsing the Legalization of Cannabis for States that follow a “Regulate Cannabis as Alcohol approach.”

MJ News Network had the opportunity to speak with WSWA’s Acting EVP for External Affairs | Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, Dawson Hobbs.  In his role, Hobbs regularly testifies before legislative and regulatory bodies in dozens of states, and has established extensive relationships with governors, attorneys general, alcohol regulators and industry officials around the country.  MJNN asked him what is behind the WSWA’s decision to back the legalization of cannabis, and what lessons the cannabis industry might learn from the nation’s approach to regulating alcohol.

wswa logo

MJNN: The WSWA has just endorsed Cannabis Legalization in States that follow an alcohol model. That’s a sea change for the alcohol industry, isn’t it?

HOBBS: Well, let me just have one little nuance of clarification. Our position is that the federal government should provide a path for States that choose to legalize. That right to legalize should be recognized as long as they follow an alcohol regulatory model,  and have appropriate regulations.  We’re not telling the individual state that they should or should not legalize, we’re simply saying there should be a path for them to choose to do so, and it should be accompanied with the appropriate regulations.

MJNN: Why the change and why now?

HOBBS: This has been a long, long discussion. We’ve had a lot of conversations, dating back to when Colorado took the step on adult use. What really has driven it is we know that it’s here to stay, and we know that more States are coming.  We think that there are 85 years’ worth of lessons of appropriate alcohol regulation that we can take to the cannabis industry, and those lessons are: It’s better off to start with a good regulatory framework rather than having to learn the lessons the hard way by trial and error.  And so, it’s more of a recognition that this is here to stay and that more states are coming, and we want to be part of the conversation about how effective state regulation works.

MJNN:  Tell me what that looks like in terms of advocacy, in terms of outreach to the cannabis community, and in terms of outreach to the general population. Those of us who have been in the industry for a number of years recognize our biggest challenge has been the normalization, the mainstreaming, of not just cannabis but of cannabis users. So, tell me, how does the WSWA advocacy take shape?

HOBBS: There’s a couple of questions there, right? So I’ll start with the first part which is we’re going to be talking and we have already started talking with members of Congress about what an appropriate regulatory framework would look like, so that they can have some comfort in allowing states to legalize.

We’re going to continue those conversations and we’re realistic about the fact that this is going to be a long conversation. We don’t think that because we took this position, Congress is going to act next week.  We know that we will be part of ongoing conversations.  We have an effective, and well-established federal advocacy team and that team will be engaged on this. And to your point, we do think that part of what we bring to the table is not only our regulatory knowledge and history and experience, but a mature advocacy organization [vis a vis] the cannabis industry.  And you know, we’re going to be having conversations like these with a number of cannabis organizations. We’re going to be reaching out to quite a few, but we also expect we’ll get some phone calls ourselves and we look forward to having those conversations.

You’ll notice that our position is not new in the cannabis world.  For a long time, many advocates have said let’s ‘Regulate Cannabis like Alcohol.’ We’re saying yes, but we’re also saying, let’s remember alcohol regulations. The reason alcohol is safe and effective is because it doesn’t just end at having to be 21, which is the thing most people think of.  There’s a host of regulations on product testing and labeling and licensing of producers and distributors and retailers — all with penalties for violations of the terms that have created a safe alcohol market. So, alcohol regulation is very effective. We agree, but we just want to make sure we talked about all the regulations.

MJNN:  Have you taken a position on either the States Act, which was just recently introduced or Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act?

HOBBS:  We think the State’s Act is really a step in the right direction. But, we want to apply a little bit more rigorous regulatory threshold that the states need to meet. It’s the right concept and States are the [best] pathway to legalization. But you know, one of the ways that normalization will occur is if a State chooses to legalize, the folks in the surrounding States need to feel confident that the product’s not going to be diverted to their State. The consumer needs to be confident that the product they’re getting is safe and has the amount of THC or CBD that it says it does.  For the people who choose not to consume, [they should be confident] the regulations surrounding the sale and production are going to make sure that there are no problems with diversion. And also that there aren’t problems with people getting a tainted product and possibly getting sick, and that there’s not overconsumption.

The normalization comes with people getting comfortable and, and confident. And we think that the regulatory model helps provide that.

MJNN:  One of the differences, however, is that in the legal cannabis world, we’ve got a real Balkanized approach. Meaning: every State has its own regulations, and there is a wide range of not just who can participate, but what products are sold, how they’re packaged and brought to market. What’s your take on that? You’re talking about standards. It’s kind of tough to have standards when you can’t sell it oil in Arizona, and you can’t sell flower in New York.

HOBBS:  I think some of those things will equalize over time. I think the lesson from the alcohol space is that every State does alcohol regulation differently, but they have a lot of commonalities. In certain states you can buy alcohol in a grocery store and other states you can’t. Those decisions are made by the state and they’re made for reasons that have to do with the culture of the state and citizens of the state.

As you know from cannabis, folks in New York and folks in Utah have different attitudes towards intoxicating products, and we should respect that because there’s cultural reasons that those differences exist when it comes to the types of products that can be sold. I think you’ve seen in the alcohol space over 85 years, there has been sort of a harmonization.  Spirits used to be much less available than other products, and now they’re becoming more equally available with wine and beer. We don’t have a position on whether that should be the case or not, but we do have a strong position that the state should be able to decide and I think you’ll see something similar. We see cannabis as in this experimental phase of folks at looking at what works for their community.

MJNN: Let’s talk a little bit about economic opportunity.  A senior executive at Molson recently advised investors that legal cannabis was cutting into their market share, and we’ve seen some pretty significant investments from spirits and alcohol marketers in Canada, Constellation Brands probably being the most visible. We’ve also seen the introduction of a number of cannabis-infused and CBD-infuised beverages, including beers and wine. Tell me, how much of your new position is based upon the realities that our industries are evolving or co-evolving together?

HOBBS: I think that evolution will continue, but I don’t think that’s unique to the alcohol industry. I’ve read quite a bit about folks from other non-alcoholic beverage industry’s looking at the cannabis space. I think some of the food manufacturers might look at being involved with the edibles space. Perhaps not the hugest, but I think some of the smaller ones, for sure.

It’s only natural that folks in [the wine and spirits] industry might look at the same thing, and you know, some of them will choose to get involved in that somehow. That really wasn’t the driving force of our decision. The driving force of our decision was that we have 85 years of experience in dealing with a regulated socially-sensitive product, and it would be silly not to bring that experience to this conversation and talk about appropriate regulation.

MJNN:  You talked about how spirits had been mainstreamed over the years. We’re now seeing whiskey ads on tv.  Ad restrictions certainly have been one area that’s been plaguing legal cannabis, in terms of our ability to do things like outdoor or for legal cannabis entities to market their product on TV. What’s your position there?

HOBBS: Well, we think that our industry has done a good job, and continues to improve, by making sure that we aren’t marketing products to those who should not have them, particularly those who are under age. Similarly, that our product is marketed in a responsible way that doesn’t make unsubstantiated either health claims or implied health claims that may or may not be true. We just think that there’s a good lesson there for the cannabis industry: to take similar steps to prevent ads from being marketed to those who are underage, or are very careful about —  and I understand the medical component, but in this early phase especially–  being careful about the health statements they make. That will go a long way to helping people be comfortable with the advertising by the cannabis industry.

You know, we all have to accept that, just like when alcohol ads appear in a new space, there’s a period of adjustment. Organizations in our industry have codes of advertising, ethics and standards, and I think a lot of those same standards can be applied to the cannabis industry pretty effectively.

MJNN: What other lessons do you have for entrepreneurs who are building the legal cannabis industry one grassroots market at a time?

HOBBS:  One of the biggest lessons that we’ve learned in our industry is that there’s a difference between effective regulation and excessive regulation.  And our alcohol space has lived in the world of effective regulation. So don’t be afraid of it. Don’t be afraid of effective regulation, because it will help your industry thrive the way ours has.  We have the safest alcohol industry in the world. It’s also the one that provides the most consumer choice and opportunity. So, we view that as a big success and one that can be copied for other products.

Executive Vice President for External Affairs | Senior Vice President, Government Affairs


Merkley Cosponsors Landmark Bill To End Federal Prohibition Of Marijuana

Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of policy that has disproportionately impacted communities of color, low-income communities

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley has announced his cosponsorship of a landmark bill to end the federal prohibition on marijuana. Senator Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances, making it legal at the federal level.

Merkley has been a leader within in the Senate on several marijuana-related issues, spearheading bipartisan efforts to enable banks to serve legal cannabis businesses so they don’t have to operate in all cash, and to empower VA doctors to advise veterans on marijuana use in medical marijuana states. In 2014, he was the first U.S. Senator to support legalizing 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,” said Senator Merkley. “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. As long as financial institutions aren’t able to service cannabis enterprises, these businesses are forced to operate in an all-cash environment that’s unsafe and lacks accountability. This bill would place cannabis legalization in the hands of states — exactly where it should be.”

“I’m thrilled that Senator Merkley is joining our effort to make our criminal justice system more consistent with the words inscribed above our Supreme Court – equal justice under the law. The War on Drugs has been a war on people – and most often people of color and low-income individuals,” said Senator Booker. “I have seen firsthand the ways these policies have harmed neighborhoods, and I know that far too many innocent people in low-income communities and communities of color are having 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 Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). In addition to these cosponsors, Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Ro Khanna (D-CA) 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 incentivize states through federal funds to change their marijuana laws if those laws were shown to have a disproportionate effect on low-income individuals and/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.

Specifically, the Marijuana Justice Act will:

  • Remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances, making it legal at the federal level;
  • Incentivize states through federal funds to change their marijuana laws if marijuana in the state is illegal and the state disproportionately arrests or incarcerates low-income individuals or people of color for marijuana-related offenses;
  • Automatically expunge federal marijuana use and possession crimes;
  • Allow an individual currently serving time in federal prison for marijuana use or possession crimes to petition a court for a resentencing;
  • Create a community reinvestment fund to reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs and allow those funds to be invested in the following programs:
    • Job training;
    • Reentry services;
    • Expenses related to the expungement of convictions;
    • Public libraries;
    • Community centers;
    • Programs and opportunities dedicated to youth; and
    • Health education.

The Congressional Record: Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act

[Pages S4669-S4672]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


      By Mr. BOOKER:
  S. 1689. A bill to amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide for 
a new rule regarding the application of the Act to marihuana, and for 
other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.
  Mr. BOOKER. Madam President, I rise to talk about the Marijuana 
Justice Act--a bill I introduced today that would end the Federal 
prohibition on marijuana and start to end the War on Drugs. For far too 
long we have approached drug use and addiction as something we can jail 
ourselves out of. It is beyond clear that approach has failed. It is 
time we start to address the persistent and systemic racial bias that 
has plagued our criminal justice system and adopt policies that will 
move us forward, not backward. It is time to de-schedule marijuana.
  Since 2001, arrests for marijuana have increased across the Country 
and now account for over 50 percent of all drug arrests in the United 
States. The ACLU conducted a thorough study of over 8 million marijuana 
arrests between 2001 and 2010. It found that 88 percent of those were 
for marijuana possession. Alarmingly, the study also found that African 
Americans are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana 
possession than their white peers, even though they use marijuana at 
similar rates.
  Over the last five years, States have begun to legalize marijuana in 
an effort to push back on the failed War on Drugs and combat the 
illicit drug market. Currently, eight States and the District of 
Columbia have legalized marijuana and more States are taking up 
measures to follow suit. We know from the experiences of States that 
have already legalized marijuana that we will gain far more than we 
lose--these States have seen increased revenues and decreased rates of 
serious crime, and a reallocation of resources toward more productive 
uses. In Colorado, arrest rates have decreased and State revenues have 
increased. Washington saw a 10 percent decrease in violent crime over 
the three-year period following legalization.
  However, the Federal government still treats marijuana as an illegal 
substance. It is time for the Federal government to end the Federal 
prohibition of marijuana.
  Today, I introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, a bill that would 
remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances, thereby ending 
the Federal prohibition. The bill would also automatically expunge 
records for people who were convicted of Federal marijuana use and 
possession offenses. We must help people with criminal records get back 
up on their feet and obtain jobs, and expunging their records is an 
important step in that process.
  The legislation would allow individuals currently serving time in 
Federal prison for marijuana offenses to petition a court for a 
resentencing. One of the greatest tragedies from the Fair Sentencing 
Act was that it did not provide retroactive relief to individuals 
serving time under the old crack and powder cocaine sentencing laws. 
The Marijuana Justice Act would allow people currently serving time for 
a marijuana offense to seek immediate relief.
  The bill would also use Federal funds to encourage States where 
marijuana is illegal to legalize the drug if they disproportionately 
arrest or incarcerate low income individuals or people

[[Page S4670]]

of color. Too often drug laws are enforced disproportionately against 
minorities and the poor. This is unacceptable and belies our values.
  Finally, the Marijuana Justice Act would establish a community 
reinvestment fund, which would invest money in communities most 
affected by the War on Drugs. Building new libraries, supporting job 
training, and investing in community centers will improve public safety 
and is the right thing to do after decades of failed drug policies.
  The Marijuana Justice Act is a serious step in acknowledging, that 
after 40 years, it is time to end the War on Drugs. It is time to stop 
our backward thinking, which has only led to backward results. It is 
time to lead with our hearts, our heads, and with policy that actually