Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) says the fate of federal marijuana legalization rests on the shoulders of Georgia voters who next month will decide which party controls the Senate in two runoff elections. And if Democrats win both races, cannabis reform will advance under President-elect Joe Biden despite his opposition to legalization, he said.
In a clip of an interview with Vice News that was released on Thursday, the senator was asked about the prospects of reform if Republicans maintain control of the chamber or if Democrats reclaim power. He put it bluntly: “Look, if you’re in Georgia right now, you will control whether weed get legalized or not based upon whether you go out and vote.”
Democratic wins for both seats would mean that the party would reclaim command over the Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as a tiebreaker. Both of the Democratic candidates vying for those seats are in favor of cannabis and drug policy reform.
If Republicans keep the majority by winning at least one of the Georgia seats, meanwhile, the prospects of ending federal marijuana prohibition would be dimmed for at least the next two years. Current leadership in the Senate has given no signal that they would take up, let alone prioritize, cannabis reform.
“If Democrats win those two seats, I’m pretty confident that you will see—maybe not the major legislation that I seek—but you’re going to see a relaxing. Even Joe Biden said he wants to decriminalize it, so the relaxing of laws that better allow states to do what they want to do,” he said in the interview with the Vice show Cari & Jemele (Won’t) Stick to Sports.
The senator said in a separate recent interview featured in a BET documentary that the president-elect’s own simple decriminalization proposal is “not enough.”
Booker told Vice that he’s advocated for legalization despite never having smoked cannabis and that, for him, it’s about “the justice issues and the racial justice issues.”
“We have had not a war on drugs or war on pot in this country; we had a war on people—disproportionately black and brown people who find their lives economically devastated because of getting arrested for things that I saw done in college by privileged people at Stanford or Yale without any fear of retribution,” he said.
He added that people in states that have already legalized cannabis should not be complacent, but rather proactive partners in advancing marijuana reform for everyone else to address “the horrible and very racialized impact of our horrible criminal justice system that has failed to establish justice.”
A bill to federally legalize marijuana did pass in the U.S. House of Representatives this month, but with Republicans in control of the Senate and a limited timeframe before the end of the session, reform will very likely have to wait until next year—depending in large part on Georgia voters.