Aug. 1 (UPI) -- New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker introduced legislation Tuesday that would legalize marijuana in federal law.
The Democrat's bill, called the Marijuana Justice Act, would eliminate pot's status as a Schedule 1 drug, removing the federal prohibition on marijuana. The bill, which faces an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Senate, would expunge convictions for marijuana use and possession in federal court. It would also guarantee sentencing hearings for prisoners who are currently imprisoned for such crimes.
The measure would codify those federal legalization efforts while also pressuring states to loosen pot laws of their own -- specifically by cutting off federal money meant to go to states for jails and prisons, if their marijuana laws put minorities in prison at disproportionate rates.
"Our country's drug laws are badly broken and need to be fixed," Booker said in a statement. "They don't make our communities any safer -- instead they divert critical resources from fighting violent crimes, tear families apart, unfairly impact low-income communities and communities of color, and waste billions in taxpayer dollars each year.
Eight states have legalized marijuana -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- as well as the District of Columbia. More states also have legalized medical marijuana.
"States have so far led the way in reforming our criminal justice system and it's about time the federal government catches up and begins to assert leadership," he said.
Booker's home state of New Jersey is considering legalizing marijuana but Politico reported that Republican Gov. Chris Christie intends to veto any effort to legalize marijuana legalization in his state.
A similar U.S. 2015 bill from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had no cosponsors.
In June, Booker was among six senators, including Democrats and Republicans, who introduced legislation that would allow states to establish their own medical marijuana policies, and shield their residents from federal prosecution.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year asked legislators not to block the Department of Justice from using funds to enforce federal marijuana laws.
"The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat transitional drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives," Sessions wrote in his letter dated May 1.
Sessions leads the President's Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which includes a study on how drug use is tied to crime.
When he was a senator from Alabama, Sessions said: "this drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it's not something to laugh about ... good people don't smoke marijuana."
In Gallup poll released last October, 60 percent of Americans said marijuana should be legalized. In 1969, only 12 percent said pot should be legalized.