President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to decriminalize marijuana is “not enough,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) says in a new BET documentary being released on Wednesday.
In a clip shared exclusively with Marijuana Moment, the senator said he was “surprised” that Biden “would be against the legalization of marijuana” as the Democratic party’s standard bearer.
The documentary replays a clip of a November 2019 debate in which Booker, then a competitor for the nomination, called out the former vice president’s comments opposing legalization by saying, “I thought you might’ve been high when you said it.”
Then, in a sit-down interview with the BET crew, Booker recounts, “I was hoping—in a joking way, because I have a lot of respect for him, so I was trying to be kind and lead with levity as they say—call out that this is a destructive reality that we live in. Decriminalization is not enough.”
The documentary—“Smoke: Marijuana + Black America”—also features interviews with Vice president-elect Kamala Harris, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), Illinois State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, rapper B. Real of Cypress Hill, singer Ty Dolla $ign, former NBA player Al Harrington and former NFL player Ricky Williams.
The film’s executive producer is rapper Nas, who also appears on screen.
“Marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people, and the war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people,” Booker said in the 2019 debate clip shown in the movie. “There are people in Congress right now that admit to smoking marijuana while there are people—our kids—are in jail right now for those drug crimes.”
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) November 21, 2019
That criticism came shortly after Biden sparked controversy by stating that he’s not in support of legalizing cannabis because “there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug.” He quickly walked back the statement about cannabis as a gateway drug—but not his opposition to legalization, however.
While the president-elect might not be in favor of legalization—a policy supported by a supermajority of voters in his party—he has pushed for decriminalizing possession, expunging records, legalizing medical cannabis, modestly rescheduling the plant under federal law and letting states set their own policies.
But in a recent transition plan on racial equity, Biden missed an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to the issue, declining to include his decriminalization proposal despite the fact that other criminal justice reforms he and Harris mentioned on the campaign trail alongside the cannabis pledge were included. A campaign spokesperson told Marijuana Moment, however, that “nothing has changed,” and decriminalization remains on the agenda for the incoming administration.
Vice President-elect Harris, meanwhile, talked consistently about the need to more broadly legalize marijuana during her own run for the top office. But she toned down her cannabis advocacy after being named Biden’s running mate and instead voiced support for his decriminalization and expungements plan. Meanwhile, Harris is the main Senate sponsor of a bill to federally deschedule cannabis, though she has her own history of previously opposing reform as a California prosecutor.
Despite her record, the incoming VP says in another BET documentary clip shared exclusively with Marijuana Moment that the drug war “incarcerated people I grew up with, people I know, people I cared about.”
The policy “criminalized the community that I grew up in,” she said, adding that “it was an abject failure.”
Lee—who co-chairs the Congressional Cannabis Caucus but voted against a Democratic National Committee platform committee amendment to add legalization as a 2020 plank—also speaks in the documentary about social equity in the cannabis industry, saying “it’s so important that those who have been most affected by these unjust laws [criminalizing marijuana] benefit from the profits and the business aspect of this.”
“Smoke: Marijuana + Black America” premieres on BET on Wednesday at 10 PM.