A man who was released from prison last month after previously being handed a life sentence for a low-level drug offense will be attending President Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night, accompanied by presidential hopeful Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
Edward Douglas was one of the first people to benefit from bipartisan sentencing reform legislation that the senator supported and played a key role in shaping. He received a life sentence in 2003 for selling 140 grams of crack cocaine, but his sentence was cut short after the First Step Act was signed into law by Trump late last year.
“Edward’s experience illuminates the deep injustices that exist within our broken criminal justice system—a system that preys upon our most vulnerable communities—the poor, the mentally ill, people of color,” Booker said in a press release. “Edward’s story also shows our capacity for redemption and how the First Step Act is changing people’s lives.”
My guest for tonight’s State of the Union is Edward Douglas, one of the first people to benefit from our landmark criminal justice reform bill, the First Step Act, signed into law late last year. I’m honored to have him join me. Read more about his story: https://t.co/S6VWGuazMO
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) February 5, 2019
Booker has made criminal justice reform a main component of his bid to secure the Democratic party’s 2020 presidential nomination. That includes drug policy measures like addressing disparities in sentencing for crack and power cocaine, as well as broad marijuana reform.
The senator’s Marijuana Justice Act would remove cannabis from the list of federally banned substances, but it also makes a point of tackling socially and racially discriminatory marijuana enforcement practices by penalizing states that dole out punishment for cannabis offenses on a disproportionate basis.
“This isn’t just about me,” Douglas said in a press release. “I was one of the first ones to benefit from the First Step Act, but there are people right now that are still locked away for harsh penalties that far outweigh the crimes they committed. I hope that my story can send a message to lawmakers about how unfair our criminal justice system is, and hopefully spur additional reforms.”
The First Step Act has been celebrated by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as a commonsense measure designed to make the criminal justice system less punitive for non-violent offenders. But some, like Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), believe that federally descheduling cannabis could be a natural next step.
Booker is also looking ahead at future reform legislation. In an interview announcing his candidacy last week, he said “ending prohibition of marijuana” is a priority because “black folks are no different in their usage rates or even the dealing rates, but are almost four times more likely to be incarcerated for marijuana.”
“We do not have equal justice under the law,” Booker said.
Photo courtesy of Jamelle Bouie.