Top Democrats have introduced a number of bills to push for the federal legalization of marijuana

  • Democratic lawmakers are seeking to legalize marijuana.

  • Chuck Schumer announced he is planning to introduce a bill to remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances.

  • And House and Senate Democrats introduced The Marijuana Justice Act, two companion bills to legalize marijuana at the federal level, in January.

  • The Marijuana Justice Act is spearheaded by Sen. Cory Booker in the Senate, and Rep. Barbara Lee in the House.

Democratic lawmakers are seeking to legalize marijuana.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced on Thursday he is planning to introduce a bill to remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances.

Schumer's bill comes on the heels of two bills introduced in the House and Senate — dubbed the Marijuana Justice Act — which would go further than Schumer's bill by fully legalizing marijuana at the federal level and expunging convictions for marijuana use or possession.

The House version of the Marijuana Justice Act, introduced by Reps. Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna of California and sponsored by 12 House Democrats, is a companion to Sen. Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act, introduced in the Senate last year.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a top contender for the Democrats 2020 nomination, signed on to Booker's bill on Wednesday.

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Beyond removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act list, both the House and Senate bills propose going a step further to provide "restorative justice" to communities disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests and convictions and create an "inclusive industry from the ground up," Lee said in a call with reporters in January.

Lee called the legislation "a bold proposal to reverse decades of discriminatory drug enforcement and to bring federal marijuana policy in line with the wishes of the American people."

What the Marijuana Justice Act would do

The bills propose creating a $500 million community reinvestment fund to focus on job training for the nascent cannabis industry, prioritizing communities that have a disproportionate number of marijuana arrests and convictions, as well as expunge convictions related to use or possession.

They would also cut federal funding for law enforcement and prison construction in states found to disproportionately arrest or convict low-income residents or people of color for marijuana offenses. The money from these cuts would contribute to the community reinvestment fund.

"It's the reverse of the 1994 crime bill," Booker said on the call with reporters. "It creates incentives for states to change their marijuana laws."

While the House bill already has 12 Democratic cosponsors, no Republicans have signed onto either the Senate or House version.

Marijuana is legal for adult use in eight states, and 29 states have legalized medical marijuana in some form.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, opposes marijuana legalization at the federal level. Earlier this month, he rescinded Obama-era rules that directed the Justice Department to keep its hands off legal cannabis businesses.

His move leaves it up to state prosecutors — many of whom are appointed on an interim basis — to decide how aggressively to enforce federal marijuana laws.

Getting Republicans on board

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle— such as Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, both Republicans — have decried Sessions' move. On the call with reporters, Khanna called this opposition a sign of the new bill's "momentum."

A bill introduced by Rohrabacher that already has 39 cosponsors, including many Republicans, would prevent the federal government from prosecuting cannabis businesses and consumers who comply with state law, but it does not go as far as federal legalization.

A recent Gallup poll found that marijuana legalization is a bipartisan issue: 64% of Americans, including 51% of Republicans, say they support it.

"We're going to get the federal government out of the states' business," Booker said.

Khanna said that, at the very least, he hoped the House bill would "force a national conversation on this issue."

"The highest form of political leadership is shaping a conversation," Khanna said. "And Sen. Booker and Rep. Lee are providing that leadership."

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