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Man enjoying marijuana during a celebration across from Philadelphia's famed Art Museum last October commemorating the second anniversary of decriminalization of marijuana possession in Philadelphia. Decrim has saved the City millions in costs for arrest and adjudication of pot. LBWPhoto.
Man enjoying marijuana during a celebration across from Philadelphia's famed Art Museum last October commemorating the second anniversary of decriminalization of marijuana possession in Philadelphia. Decrim has saved the City millions in costs for arrest…

[OP-ED]: US Senator Booker Proposes Relief For Persons Wronged By Pot Punishment

New Jersey U.S. Senator Cory Booker introduced a measure recently on marijuana that could dramatically improve the lives of thousands of blacks and Latinos in…

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This innovative/overdue measure from Booker, a Democratic and former mayor of Newark, would legalize marijuana at the federal level. Other provisions include a penalty on states for persistent racially discriminatory arrest and incarceration rates for marijuana related offenses. 

Notably, this measure from Booker creates expungment of federal marijuana convictions. Booker also requests that states expunge cannabis convictions. Persons with marijuana convictions – even for possession of just a tiny amount – face life-long restricts on a range of things from obtaining certain jobs to receiving federal financial aid for college. 

Eliminating criminal records is a big life-changing deal for the thousands of local Latinos and blacks that now bear the mark of a marijuana conviction. 

Further, removal of a marijuana record would allow involvement in the fast-growing and lucrative legal marijuana industry. Regulations related to the legalized medical and adult-use cannabis industry currently bar participation by persons with criminal records.

Senator Booker said he supports this measure because of the history of racist marijuana law enforcement. Racist enforcement history was the rationale cited in 2014 when then City Councilman James Kenney, now Philadelphia’s mayor, spearheaded decriminalization of cannabis possession in Philadelphia. 

Kenny had to fight then mayor Michael Nutter, an African-American, who had turned a blind-eye to clear racial disparities in marijuana arrests, like blacks and Latinos comprising 93 percent of the 2012 pot possession arrests in Philadelphia. (Marijuana usage is equal among whites and non-whites nationwide.) Credit Kenney for taking a stand to right a racist wrong that no non-white member of City Council found appropriate to address despite pot enforcement impacting non-whites discriminatorily.

There is a despicable history of discriminatory marijuana law enforcement across America despite duplicitous denials from the likes of former Philly mayor Nutter and current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. A 1944 report released by the City of New York on marijuana documented that blacks and Latinos comprised 76 percent of pot possession arrests during a one-year period between 1939 and 1940. Blacks and Latinos accounted for 85 percent of NYC’s pot possession arrests in 2016. 

Similar to Philadelphia, most NYC pot possession arrests arise from racist stop-&-frisk policing targeting non-whites communities.

Major conclusions of that 1944 La Guardia Report contradict contemporary claims that marijuana is a grave menace. That report prepared by the New York Academy of Medicine found no evidence that marijuana was a gateway to hard drugs or it caused crimes by users. 

Conclusions of that 1944 report are consistent with the findings of an extensive probe of marijuana conducted by the British government in the early 1890s and a commission established by then U.S President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s.

This proposal from Senator Booker to end the federal prohibition of pot is another indicator that it is past due to cut the dumb shi-tuff regarding cannabis.

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