Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) announced on February 1, 2019 that he’s running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
The former Newark, New Jersey mayor has been a consistent critic of the war on drugs and has introduced some of the boldest marijuana legislation ever seen in Congress, earning him an A+ grade from NORML.
This piece was last updated on November 26, 2019 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.
Legislation And Policy Actions
Booker is the chief sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act—a bill that would end federal prohibition by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. It would also penalize states where marijuana laws are enforced in a racially disproportionate manner and establish a federal grant program to invest in communities that have been targeted in the war on drugs.
He first introduced the legislation in 2018 and reintroduced it for the 116th Congress in 2019.
The latest version of the legislation has several cosponsors, including other 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).
“The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs, it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals,” Booker said in a press release. “The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of this unfair, unjust, and failed policy by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances and making it legal at the federal level.”
TODAY: I'm reintroducing the Marijuana Justice Act – my bill to legalize marijuana on the federal level, expunge records, and reinvest in the communities that have been hurt from the war on drugs. pic.twitter.com/LWL0j7fN5F
— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) February 28, 2019
He’s also championed the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, which would protect medical cannabis patients and businesses from federal intervention and also require the Drug Enforcement Administration to license additional marijuana cultivators for federal research purposes.
When Booker first introduced the CARERS Act in 2015, it was the first Senate bill ever filed to downgrade the marijuana federal status.
“We need policies that empower states to legalize medical marijuana if they so choose—recognizing that there are Americans who can realize real medical benefits if this treatment option is brought out of the shadows,” he said in a press release.
Booker has also cosponsored legislation designed to broadly shield states that have legalized marijuana from federal enforcement and another bill that would allow banks to work with cannabis businesses operating in compliance with state law without fear of federal penalties.
He declined to cosponsor the latest version of that latter legislation this time around, however, arguing that it lacks adequate social equity provisions.
In March 2019, the senator sponsored another descheduling bill—called the Next Step Act—which would remove cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances, clear criminal records for marijuana convictions and reinvest in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
“There’s more that remains to be done so that our justice system truly embodies those words etched onto our nation’s highest court—‘equal justice under law.’ That’s exactly what the Next Step Act does,” Booker said in a press release.
Booker introduced legislation in May 2019 that would protect students with drug convictions from losing out on federal financial aid.
“The complexity of a financial aid form should not limit the opportunities available to our country’s young people,” Booker said in a press release. “Yet, that is sadly the reality for many low-income students and students of color. Our future depends on how we educate the next generation—it’s time we start lowering the barriers to entry and begin including more students.”
A bill the senator filed in June 2019 would ensure that immigrants are not deported or denied citizenship in the U.S. solely because of cannabis offenses.
Booker said in a press release that the Trump administration’s “efforts to use marijuana possession as a tool for deportation is disgraceful and misguided” and that “law enforcement resources should not be wasted on deporting people for something two of the last three presidents have admitted to doing.”
He also cosponsored another descheduling bill, introduced by Harris in July. That legislation would also fund programs aimed at repairing the harms of the war on drugs.
Also that month, Booker introduced a criminal justice reform bill that would allow individuals who’ve served more than 10 years in federal prison to petition the court to determine whether they’re eligible for a reduced sentence or release.
There are hundreds of thousands of people behind bars–most of them people of color–who were sentenced under draconian laws during the height of the War on Drugs that we have since recognized were unfair. But many of the changes we’ve made to these laws have not been retroactive. pic.twitter.com/XIxU8epqaN
— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) July 15, 2019
“Our bill targets a harsh reality: there are hundreds of thousands of people behind bars—most of them people of color—who were sentenced under draconian laws during the height of the War on Drugs that we have since recognized were unfair,” he said.
In 2014, he and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who worked closely with Booker on the CARERS bill, introduced a separate amendment to block the Justice Department from using federal funds to intervene in states that have legalized marijuana, but it did not receive a vote.
Before he and Paul got to work on bipartisan cannabis legislation, they joked with each other on Twitter about the GOP senator’s Festivus grievance about partisanship. Paul suggested the two work on mandatory minimum sentencing reform, to which Booker replied, “Yes, If u throw in reforming Fed Hemp & Marijuana laws u’ve got a deal!”
@CoryBooker how about mandatory minimum sentencing reform instead?
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) December 23, 2013
Yes, If u throw in reforming Fed Hemp & Marijuana laws u've got a deal! RT @SenRandPaul: How about mandatory min sentencing reform instead?
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) December 23, 2013
In a letter sent to Attorney General William Barr in February, Booker joined Senate colleagues in imploring the official to approve additional facilities to cultivate marijuana for federal research purposes.
After then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insinuated that the federal government would increase enforcement against legal marijuana states, Booker and 10 other senators sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, urging the Justice Department to respect states’ right when it comes to cannabis policy.
Sessions received another letter from Booker and two other Democratic colleagues in 2017, who implored Sessions not to reverse Obama-era Justice Department policies and make low-level drug offenders face longer mandatory minimum sentences.
He also put his name on a bipartisan letter to congressional leaders, expressing frustration that a provision that would’ve allowed physicians at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to discuss and recommend medical cannabis was excluded from a 2016 spending bill.
A New York Times deep dive into Booker’s criminal justice record noted that during his time as mayor he faced criticism from civil rights groups who felt he had given too much leeway to law enforcement in his attempt to drive down violent crime in Newark.
On The Campaign Trail
Since launching his campaign, Booker has sought to distinguish himself as a candidate who not only backs broad marijuana reform but is so committed to righting the wrongs of prohibition that he’s not willing to support cannabis legislation that doesn’t address issues of social equity and restorative justice.
To that end, the senator declined to renew his cosponsorship of a bill that would protect banks that service the marijuana industry and, prior to the House passing that legislation in September, he reiterated that point.
As I said earlier this year, any marijuana legislation moving through Congress must include restorative justice for those most harmed by the War on Drugs in order to get my vote.https://t.co/Y1dOwgHbm2
— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) September 20, 2019
During a CNN town hall event in March, Booker said that he would “absolutely” consider mass marijuana pardons if he was elected president.
Cory Booker says he "absolutely” would consider mass commutations and pardons for federal marijuana offenses if he were to become president. #BookerTownHall https://t.co/8If7Lkd89C pic.twitter.com/DGyHbMtlwb
— CNN (@CNN) March 28, 2019
He released a plan in June stipulating that he would exercise his clemency powers for an estimated 17,000 individuals serving time in federal prison for nonviolent drug offenses—more than half of whom would be people with marijuana-related convictions.
“It’s time we end our failed War on Drugs, which has really been a war on people,” he said in October. “As president, I will fight to tear down this system, and on Day One begin extending clemency to thousands of individuals serving excessive sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.”
It's time we end our failed War on Drugs, which has really been a war on people. As president, I will fight to tear down this system, and on Day One begin extending clemency to thousands of individuals serving excessive sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) October 28, 2019
Booker pledged that on his first day in office he would start the clemency process by signing an executive order instructing the Bureau of Prisons, the Defender Services Division of the U.S. Courts and the U.S. Sentencing Commission to identify individuals in prison who would be eligible under his initiative.
Right now, there are thousands of people sitting in prison serving excessive sentences.
Today I’m announcing that as president, I’ll immediately start the clemency process for more than 17,000 individuals who are there due to the failed War on Drugs. https://t.co/SpFcQBI6EK
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) June 20, 2019
“If I am your president I am going to fight to make sure that we have sane drug laws and that we expunge the records of those people who are going through convictions and the aftermath for things like marijuana,” he said.
My first day as president I’ll start a historic clemency process for those serving time for:
✅ Marijuana-related offenses
✅ Unjust sentences due to the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity
✅ Certain mandatory minimums that were already reduced for some
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) September 9, 2019
Booker proactively brought up marijuana issues at several Democratic presidential debates.
In October, he joked that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), another candidate, is supportive of medical cannabis legalization after the senator was asked about his health following a heart attack.
The next month, he took a hit at former Vice President Joe Biden, who days earlier had said he doesn’t support legalization in part because he’s not sure if marijuana is a gateway drug.
“This week I hear [Biden] literally say that I don’t think we should legalize marijuana,” Booker said. “I thought you might’ve been high when you said it.”
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) November 21, 2019
“Marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people, and the war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people,” the senator said. “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.”
In a post-debate interview, Booker was asked about his attack against Biden and said he’s “not going to stand on a debate stage and not call out the disastrous realities of the war on drugs.”
On his zinger against @JoeBiden on marijuana, @CoryBooker brought up the, “Disastrous realities of the war on drugs,” saying it’s not a trivial issue and is a, “war on particular people.” #DemDebates pic.twitter.com/gqpIXmuGg6
— The Young Turks (@TheYoungTurks) November 21, 2019
“This war on drugs has been a war on particular people, low-income people, disproportionately African Americans,” he said. “What it’s done is just destroyed our nation, particularly communities like the one in which I live on. This was not a trivial issue, it was very important to bring that up tonight.”
“I love Joe Biden, but he is out of step on this issue and fails to see how the war on drugs that he was a part of leading, and designing the bills, how those are still hurting so many community members,” the senator said in a separate interview.
Had this exchange with @CoryBooker last night post-debate, where he didn’t mince words on Biden/pot. He wouldn’t say not supporting marijuana legalization was disqualifying, but did say: “I love Joe Biden. But he is out of step on this issue.” pic.twitter.com/CP7HQrdonr
— Ali Vitali (@alivitali) November 21, 2019
He made similar points about the reasoning for the line of attack in a third interview as well.
— Signal Boost (@SignalBoostShow) November 21, 2019
Booker said that his mom scolded him for joking about Biden getting high on cannabis during the debate.
“Cory, did you really accuse the vice president of the United States of smoking marijuana on national TV?” he said his mother asked during a phone call. “Did I raise you better than that?”
The senator also hit Biden during a separate Democratic presidential debate in July, criticizing the former vice president’s record and stating that “far more bold action on criminal justice reform” is needed, and that includes “true marijuana justice, which means legalizing it on a federal level and reinvest the profits in communities that have been disproportionately targeted by marijuana enforcement.”
In a Wall Street Journal interview, Booker also criticized Biden for his role in advancing harsh criminal justice laws and boasting about it, imploring him to “repent.”
“I just want from the vice president, who I respect and see him as a statement, I want him to be able to stand before the American public and say, ‘Hey, when I said that every major criminal justice bill from the 1970s to present, major and minor, has had my name on it,’ please, please just repent,” he said. “Say that this was wrong.”
Booker has gone after Biden on a number of other occasions for his role in advancing punitive drug laws during his time in the Senate.
“A lot of Democrats who were involved with the 1994 crime bill have spoken very openly and with vulnerability, talking about their mistakes. So that doesn’t, that doesn’t disqualify you,” the senator said in July. “But what we’ve seen, from the vice president, over the last month, is an inability to talk candidly about the mistakes he made, about things he could’ve done better, about how some of the decisions he made at the time, in difficult context, actually have resulted in really bad outcomes.”
After Biden released a criminal justice reform plan, which included a cannabis decriminalization proposal, Booker said “Joe Biden had more than 40 years to get this right” and that the “ proud architect of a failed system is not the right person to fix it.”
“While it’s encouraging to see Vice President Biden finally come around to supporting many of the ideas I and others have proposed, his plan falls short of the transformative change our broken criminal justice system needs. Any comprehensive plan simply must include the legalization of marijuana, an overhaul of policing practices, ambitious use of presidential clemency power to right past wrongs, and reinvestment in the communities that have borne the costs of mass incarceration. Joe Biden’s plan doesn’t do that.”
Biden responded to the criticism, stating that, as mayor, Booker “objected to federal interference” from the Obama administration on ending discriminatory policing tactics.
After a historic House Judiciary Committee vote on a bill to federally deschedule cannabis that also contains social equity provisions, Booker issued press releases where he took credit for certain policies included in the legislation.
“After years of work in the Senate, our efforts to pair marijuana legalization with expungement and reinvestment in the communities most harmed by the War on Drugs have finally led us to today’s critical mark-up,” he said in one. “The war on drugs has systematically targeted people of color and the poor, harmed job prospects and access to housing for our nation’s most vulnerable communities, and destroyed countless lives.”
In another press release, the senator said the markup “is a significant tipping point.”
“The Committee passage of this bill is an important step towards reversing decades of failed drug policy that has disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income individuals,” he said. “These draconian laws have sacrificed critical resources, violated our values, destroyed families and communities, and failed to make us safer.”
“As I said earlier this year, any marijuana legislation moving through Congress must include restorative justice for those most harmed by the War on Drugs in order to get my vote,” he wrote.
“It’s not enough to legalize marijuana—we must also reinvest in areas that have been most harmed by the failed drug war which have been disproportionately communities of color and low-income,” he said in March.
It’s not enough to legalize marijuana—we must also reinvest in areas that have been most harmed by the failed drug war which have been disproportionately communities of color and low-income.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) March 8, 2019
“Many states that have already legalized marijuana haven’t done the necessary step of expunging records of past marijuana use and possession,” he said. “Any federal legalization should also include expungement provisions.”
There are hundreds of thousands of people behind bars–most of them people of color–who were sentenced under draconian laws during the height of the War on Drugs that we have since recognized were unfair. But many of the changes we’ve made to these laws have not been retroactive. pic.twitter.com/XIxU8epqaN
— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) July 15, 2019
“Any conversation about legalizing marijuana must also include expunging records and restoring justice to individuals and communities that have been devastated by the failed drug war,” Booker said in October.
Any conversation about legalizing marijuana must also include expunging records and restoring justice to individuals and communities that have been devastated by the failed drug war.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) October 28, 2019
“We have a criminal justice system that is not fair and equitable, but targets certain communities,” he said at a forum that month. “The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs—it’s been a war on people. And certain people. Disproportionately black and brown people.”
"We have a criminal justice system that is not fair and equitable, but targets certain communities.
— CAP Action (@CAPAction) October 28, 2019
“Don’t talk to me about legalizing marijuana if you’re not also talking about investing in the communities that have been ravaged by the failed War on Drugs,” he tweeted in November. “The end we seek is not just legalization—it’s justice.
Don't talk to me about legalizing marijuana if you're not also talking about investing in the communities that have been ravaged by the failed War on Drugs. The end we seek is not just legalization—it's justice.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) November 26, 2019
“This is to me about justice, it’s about fairness, it’s about equality under the law,” he told the Iowa Press in November. “There shouldn’t be different rules for different people. If half of Congress—I’m making up that number, I’m not sure how many have, but many more than I can count have admitted smoking marijuana, many people in this president race have—and you’re not for expunging the records and legalizing it for people when it’s disproportionately targeting low-income people, black and brown people? Come on. This has got to be about justice in our country.”
As part of his campaign, Booker has made several apparent digs at his opponent, Harris, after she lightheartedly discussed her prior cannabis use during college.
“We have presidential candidates and congresspeople and senators that now talk about their marijuana use almost as if it’s funny,” he said in March. “But meanwhile, in 2017, we had more arrests for marijuana possession in this country than all the violent crime arrests combined.”
“How can we talk about legalization and not talk about expunging the records of people who still can’t get jobs, who still can’t vote in many states, still can’t get business licenses because of doing things that congresspeople and senators now readily admit to doing?” he told Rolling Stone in May.
“We’ve got to expunge records. We’ve got to get people who are in prison now for marijuana crimes a pathway out of prison. And we’ve got to take the resources — the incredible tax revenue that is going to come [from the legal trade in cannabis] — and reinvest it in those communities that were disproportionately targeted by the war on marijuana.”
“Every American should be angered by this injustice,” the senator wrote in response to a story about a man deported after serving a 17-year prison sentence for marijuana.
Every American should be angered by this injustice. We need to legalize marijuana nationwide but that doesn’t go far enough—we also need to expunge records & reinvest in communities hardest hit by our failed drug war. We need justice for Karla, her dad & so many others. https://t.co/ES3DjnmT9y
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 30, 2019
“We need to legalize marijuana nationwide but that doesn’t go far enough—we also need to expunge records & reinvest in communities hardest hit by our failed drug war. We need justice for Karla, her dad & so many others,” he said.
He also spoke about the need for expungements in any legalization law in November.
Excited to join @WendyWilliams on her show today—please check your local listings.
Here's a sneak peek from our chat about how we need to not only legalize marijuana in this country but also expunge the records of those who have been unjustly targeted by this failed drug war. pic.twitter.com/37aMseutLV
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) November 18, 2019
“I applaud Oklahoma for this historic vote that will allow hundreds of people who are in jail for low-level drug offenses to return home to their families,” Booker said of a state move to commutate sentences in November. “The War on Drugs has been a war on people, ruining lives & not making us safer.”
I applaud Oklahoma for this historic vote that will allow hundreds of people who are in jail for low-level drug offenses to return home to their families. The War on Drugs has been a war on people, ruining lives & not making us safer. https://t.co/hBP82XBgI9
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) November 2, 2019
Booker said that he supports allowing people incarcerated for cannabis offenses to vote, but not for people serving time for certain violent or sex crimes.
“The War on Drugs is a war on people, but not all people. It has disproportionately affected Black communities, low-income people, veterans, people living with mental illness,” the senator said in June. “As president, I will fight to reform the criminal justice system like I’ve been doing in the Senate.”
The War on Drugs is a war on people, but not all people. It has disproportionately affected Black communities, low-income people, veterans, people living with mental illness. As president, I will fight to reform the criminal justice system like I've been doing in the Senate. pic.twitter.com/Tks9gEEDQO
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) June 21, 2019
Booker was one of several presidential candidates and policymakers who submitted essays for a Brennan Center For Justice publication on ending mass incarceration. The senator wrote that the enormous increase in incarceration in the U.S. is “largely a direct result of the War on Drugs—a government policy that mandated longer, more punitive sentences, often for nonviolent crimes.”
“Building off the momentum behind criminal justice reform, the Next Step Act would make far-reaching reforms to police encounters, sentencing, prison conditions, and reentry efforts. For too long our broken criminal justice system has been a cancer on the soul of this country, a cancer that has preyed on our most vulnerable citizens. The system as it currently stands is an affront to our most fundamental values of freedom, equality, and liberty. It’s time we take the next step toward a more equal, more fair, and more just nation.”
“We will reform our criminal justice system so that people affected by the failed War on Drugs can apply for loans and have access to capital,” he tweeted in June.
We will boost entrepreneurship by expanding training programs and invest $1.5 billion into the State Small Business Credit Initiative. We will reform our criminal justice system so that people affected by the failed War on Drugs can apply for loans and have access to capital.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) June 17, 2019
In a Q&A with Shondaland, the candidate said that his proudest political accomplishment was helping to pass “a historic criminal justice reform law that has the potential to liberate 2,000 currently incarcerated people who are serving time for non-violent drug crimes, 96 percent of whom are black and Latino.”
Following a historic hearing on ending federal marijuana prohibition in the House Judiciary Committee, Booker tweeted that he felt “encouraged” by the development.
Encouraged @HouseJudiciary held a hearing on the racial disparities in marijuana enforcement.
To be clear though, pointing out the *vast* racial disparities in marijuana enforcement is not "playing the race card."
It's the ugly truth.https://t.co/Hl7KmwV7jH
— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) July 11, 2019
“There is definitely—every Congress I’ve been here—movement being made,” Booker told The Daily Beast in March. “When I started talking about marijuana policy my very first year here, there’s many more people who are joining, sort of this coalition to try to advance marijuana laws here in the United States Senate, which is encouraging to me.”
The candidate compared the ongoing federal criminalization of cannabis to the failure of alcohol prohibition in the 1920s during an appearance on The Real Daytime in May.
He also talked with NPR about how there are still hundreds of thousands of marijuana arrests in the U.S. each year at a time when more and more states are legalizing it for medical and recreational use.
2020 candidate Cory Booker continues to struggle making inroads with black voters — something he addressed in a wide-ranging NPR interview with two voters.
He says the criminal justice system is a national crisis, and pointed to his record in office: "Let my work speak for me." pic.twitter.com/3Y0Eh25ULm
— NPR (@NPR) October 14, 2019
“We have lots of these fast food joints so I drive into one of these fast food joints to meet the need and get the large fries,” he said. “And you know, I’m sorry—I’m the guy that believes we should deschedule marijuana on the federal level, but maybe we should schedule those fries because they are very addictive.”
The senator said in September that he’s “always believed we should legalize marijuana.”
Booker launched his candidacy with an interview on the Tom Joyner Morning Show and emphasized right away that marijuana reform is a key part of his platform.
“It means changing our drug laws, ending prohibition against marijuana, which has led—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,” he said. “We do not have equal justice under the law.”
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
Booker has not been shy in his advocacy for marijuana reform. He’s spoken frequently about the consequences of prohibition and the need to not only legalize cannabis but also ensure that those harmed by the drug war see restorative justice in the process. He has tweets calling for cannabis reform going back to 2011, when he was still a mayor.
Over a decade ago, Booker blamed the drug war for contributing to violent crime and pledged to go “to battle on this.”
“We’re going to start doing it the gentlemanly way,” he said. “And then we’re going to do the civil disobedience way. Because this is absurd. I’m talking about marches. I’m talking about sit-ins at the state capitol. I’m talking about whatever it takes.”
“The drug war is causing crime. It is just chewing up young black men. And it’s killing Newark.”
In 2012, Booker said the drug war “has not succeeded in making significant reductions in drug use, drug arrests or violence” and that the country is “pouring huge amounts of our public resources into this current effort that are bleeding our public treasury and unnecessarily undermining human potential.”
The war on drugs has been a tremendous failure driving poverty and disparity & not helping us achieve greater security or health @LVKen7
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 18, 2013
I'm determined 2 see federal drug policy & criminal justice policy change so we save taxpayer $, empower people & make America safer @LVKen7
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 18, 2013
I'm deeply sad that US citizens (like in CA) are fully abiding by state drug laws & helping sick ppl, yet face federal prosecution @LVKen7
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 18, 2013
He gave an extensive response to a question about how he thought marijuana decriminalization would impact Newark during a Reddit AMA in 2013:
“I believe too many of my young people are being unfairly punished and chewed up by the criminal justice system over small amounts of marijuana. Their lives are being severely and adversely affected by the sheer number of arrests and incarcerations we are making. When a young person enters a system, it often leaves them worse off than other lower cost interventions would.”
The then-mayor said in the same comment that while “non-medicinal use of the drug is unhealthy for those who use it, and for society…the vast majority of the damage done by marijuana comes from how we as a society have responded to its use and trade. We spend billions of dollars a year with little effect, and with the further price tag of delegitimization of our laws and law enforcement, and making criminals of so many otherwise law abiding americans.”
In another comment in the same thread, Booker said “the so called War on Drugs has not succeeded in making significant reductions in drug use, drug arrests or violence. We are pouring huge amounts of our public resources into this current effort that are bleeding our public treasury and unnecessarily undermining human potential. I see the BILLIONS AND BILLIONS of dollars being poured into the criminal justice system here in New Jersey and it represents big overgrown government at its worst.”
During a separate Reddit thread, he called the drug war “an absolute failure,” adding:
“It is consuming gross amounts of our national treasure and destroying the lives of millions of people that could, with the right policy, be far more productive in our society. More than this, it is a strong contributor to the continuance of cycles of poverty and the further frustration of existing gross racial disparities. I am outraged by this reality and have and will dedicate much of my time and energy to helping our nation get out of this trap that is adversely affecting all of us.”
“With changing our drug policy and reforming criminal justice we can help make our streets safer, save taxpayer dollars and increase the productivity of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” he added in another comment.
In a video taped for a conference of drug policy reform advocates, Booker called the war on drugs “a cancer on the soul of our country.”
While the senator was quick to embrace medical marijuana legalization, he said in 2014 that he remained undecided on full legalization—but argued that the fact that states like Washington had already legalized “is a really valuable American laboratory.”
“I am encouraged voters stepped out into this laboratory. If it’s a failure, it’s a failure. But if it’s a success and it doesn’t hurt public safety and improves the economy by providing greater opportunities, and doesn’t cause more crime, then I will be open to legalization.”
Booker was one of more than 1,000 leaders from around the globe who signed a 2016 letter condemning the failures of the war on drugs and advocating for “real reform of global drug control policy.”
He also stopped by a medical cannabis rally in New Jersey in 2014 and thanked reform advocates for their work.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) October 3, 2014
At a press conference unveiling the 2017 version of the CARERS Act, Booker hinted that he was inclined to back full legalization but didn’t want to detract from the bipartisan momentum behind medical marijuana legislation.
“This press conference and this bipartisan bill is about medical marijuana,” he said. “You can be confident that you’ll be hearing from me soon on a lot of the issues that are before New Jersey. But where I am on this issue, I don’t want to take away from where we have a bipartisan coalition.”
The CARERS ACT would allow States to decide what is legal regarding medical marijuana: pic.twitter.com/fnt7lWeBWv
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) April 11, 2016
In an interview with CNN in 2015, the senator said that multiple presidents and lawmakers have admitted to using cannabis recreationally and that it is hypocritical for those same individuals opposing medical marijuana legalization.
“Let’s stop the pot hypocrisy,” he said. “People that are in public office all throughout the Senate have said, ‘hey, I’ve smoked marijuana recreationally.’ How—how much of a hypocrite do you have to be to say that I broke American laws using pot as a recreational thing and that I’m not going to support this idea that as a medicine for severely sick people, that they shouldn’t be able to access this drug?”
He also called out Kevin Sabet, president of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana for resisting cannabis rescheduling in order to free up researchers to study the plant. He asked why, if Sabet felt the difference between Schedule I and Schedule II was negligible, and researchers say that rescheduling would make it easier to study cannabis, he would oppose it.
“Clearly—cleary it’s optics that your’e concerned about,” Booker said. “Clearly this makes a difference. But clearly the downside of this—the danger of this—is not that families will be hurt. You’re just saying that they won’t be helped enough.”
In a Senate floor speech, Booker criticized fellow lawmakers for preventing Washington D.C. from using local funds to legalize and regulate adult-use cannabis sales, saying that “self-determination of the people is at the core of our democratic ideals as a nation” and “despite this, Washington D.C., with a population larger than two of our states, sees the constant undermining of this very principle.”
When the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it would be approving applications for additional cannabis manufacturers for federal research purposes, Booker applauded the move but said the agency “hasn’t gone far enough.”
— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) August 12, 2016
“While this announcement is a step in the right direction, the DEA’s failure to reclassify marijuana is disappointing,” he said in a press release. “There are Americans who can realize real medical benefits if this treatment option is brought out of the shadows, and choosing to ignore the medical value of marijuana defies common sense and the scientific evidence.”
In the years since President Donald Trump took office, Booker has stepped up his advocacy efforts and broadened his views on marijuana reform, which eventually led him to endorse full legalization.
For example, he called Sessions “one of the greatest threats to the safety of our local communities in America” amid concerns that the Justice Department was preparing for a crackdown on legal cannabis states.
“If you try to start prosecuting marijuana… you create more violence and more danger as well as greater government cost,” Booker said. “These policies that he’s doing ultimately go to the core of the safety of our communities.”
“If we can overcome Strom Thurmond’s filibuster against the civil rights bill, we can overcome a U.S. Attorney General who is out of step with history and out of step with his party.”
And after Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, an Obama-era guidance document to federal prosecutors on priorities for marijuana enforcement, Booker took to the Senate floor to condemn the move. The Cole memo, he said, “was a critical step and a move in the right direction, undoing some of the catastrophic damage that has been caused by the failed war on drugs.”
“This is an attack on our most sacred ideals and the very purpose of the Department of Justice, which is to protect Americans, to elevate ideals of justice and to do right by people,” he said. He expanded on that point in a press release:
“Jeff Sessions’ determination to revive the failed War on Drugs knows no bounds. History has shown that our deeply broken drug laws disproportionately harm low-income communities and communities of color and cost us billions annually in enforcement, incarceration, and wasted human potential, without making us any safer. This unjust, backwards decision is wrong for America, and will prove to be on the wrong side of history.”
Trump’s seeming admiration of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug policy, which is reported to have involved extrajudicial killings of hundreds of people suspected of using or selling drugs, also earned Booker’s condemnation. He said Trump’s praise of the leader “disturbs me to my core.”
Trump basically praised Duterte's government for murdering people in the streets over a War on Drugs. That disturbs me to my core. pic.twitter.com/P48btp2CYp
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) May 27, 2017
— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) May 24, 2017
At the same time that Booker was putting pressure on the Trump administration for taking a regressive stance on cannabis policy, he became increasingly vocal about the adult-use legalization. In 2017, he introduced the Marijuana Justice Act—a piece of cannabis legislation that not only ends prohibitions but also represented a paradigm shift in the reform movement for its provisions punishing states that have unfair enforcement practices.
“Federal marijuana policy has long overstepped the boundaries of common sense, fiscal prudence, and compassion,” he said. “Not to mention the hypocrisy of presidents, senators and Congress members openly admiring they have done a drug that others in this country, less privileged, have been arrested for.”
More recently, the senator pressed Trump’s attorney general nominee, William Barr, on whether he thought it was “appropriate to use federal resources to target marijuana businesses that are in compliance with state law.”
The line of questioning caused Barr to say he would not go after state-legal cannabis businesses if confirmed, and he also urged lawmakers to resolve conflicting federal and state marijuana laws.
Policy aides to Booker told The Washington Post on the day he announced his presidential candidacy that “legalizing marijuana” and “giving federal money to areas the government determines were most hurt by the war on drugs” would be central components of his platform.
Booker invited a man who was formerly incarcerated for selling drugs as his guest to Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address. “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,” he said.
The senator said that while he’s happy to see growing support for cannabis reform, he wants the conversation to focus more on social and racial justice.
“I am pleased to see public sentiment moving as it is, but I have an approach to marijuana legalization that sees it as a justice issue and not just as an adult-use issue,” he told the Boston Globe. “The damage that the enforcement and prohibition has done to our country is outrageous, unacceptable, and violates our values.”
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Booker said that personal experience was not what informed his position on cannabis.
“I have never smoked marijuana, I have never smoked a cigarette, I have never eaten marijuana, I have never tried another drug, I have never drank alcohol,” he told Vice. “This to me is not an issue I come at through my own experimentations.”
“I come at this as an issue of justice, as an issue of safety for our communities, as an issue of utter fairness,” he said. “But I will tell you what, I might have my first drink of alcohol if my bill can become a law.”
Booker has also spoken about the differing experiences with cannabis enforcement for people in the urban community he lives in as compared to those whom he attended to elite colleges with.
“I live in an inner city community that has had a very different experience with marijuana prohibition than the affluent communities that I grew up in and that the universities and colleges I attended — and that’s just not fair,” he told the Boston Globe.
Marijuana Under A Booker Presidency
It is abundantly clear that Booker would be a powerful advocate for federal marijuana reform if elected president. His consistent condemnation of the drug war, in addition to his leadership on the issue of legalization in the Senate (particularly his sponsorship of the Marijuana Justice Act), makes him one of the fiercest proponents of reform in Congress. It stands to reason that he’d continue that work in the White House.
Trade Associations And Civil Rights Groups Send Mixed Messages On Marijuana Banking To Senate
A coalition of trade associations sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership on Thursday, urging a vote on legislation to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses.
But those senators are also feeling pressure from leading civil rights groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, which sent an earlier letter insisting that they not allow cannabis banking to detract from more comprehensive reform that addresses social equity.
The organizations involved in the latest letter—including the American Bankers Association and Credit Union National Association—said that advancing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act or similar legislation is pivotal to ensuring that stakeholders receive needed clarity and are shielded from being penalized by federal regulators.
The letter, addressed to Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House passage of the bill in September and the growing movement at the state level to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.
“Our organizations support an initial legislative step that allows the legal cannabis industry into the banking system,” the groups, which also include the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, International Council of Shopping Centers and National Association of REALTORS, wrote. “Ultimately, protecting law-abiding financial institutions and ancillary businesses from their currently untenable position and addressing increasing public safety concerns.”
As more states reform their marijuana laws, however, “distribution, sale, possession, research, transaction, housing, employment, and a broader landscape of cannabis is becoming increasingly problematic” for stakeholders under federal prohibition.
“Ultimately, this creates more legal and security concerns that impact the operations and safety of businesses and consumers,” they said. “Finally, the lack of an available safe harbor for cannabis will continue to challenge the full adoption and deployment of the legal hemp and CBD products market in the U.S. due to the inextricable link between hemp and cannabis.”
“To resolve this, we urge the Committee to vote on the SAFE Banking Act or similar measures. Such measures are meant to create a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to businesses in a state permitting the use of cannabis. A safe harbor will enable law enforcement and states to effectively monitor and regulate businesses while simultaneously bringing billions into the regulated banking sector.”
12 groups including ABA just wrote @MikeCrapo @SenSherrodBrown @senatemajldr @SenSchumer urging a vote on the #SAFEBanking Act. It's time to end the legal limbo over banking cannabis in the growing number of states where it's legal. Read the letter: https://t.co/1529vIHawq
— American Bankers Association (@ABABankers) December 12, 2019
The letter, also signed by Americans for Prosperity and R Street, recognizes that creating a federal regulatory scheme for marijuana will take time but says that the SAFE Banking Act represents “a critical first step to ensure that legal cannabis marketplaces are safe, legal, and transparent.”
Crapo has said that he’s interested in holding a vote on resolving the cannabis banking issue in his panel before the year’s end, but so far nothing has been scheduled. The chairman told Marijuana Moment in earlier interviews that there are several changes to the House-passed bill that he’d like to see but that he’s worried impeachment proceedings against the president will interfere with plans to hold a vote.
All that said, pressure from civil rights advocacy groups could complicate congressional efforts to get the banking bill approved. In October, several organizations including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress sent a letter to Senate leadership, as well as Crapo and Brown, demanding that “marijuana legislation considered in the Senate include provisions that will guarantee equity in the industry.”
The letter, which doesn’t appear to have been previously reported and was obtained by Marijuana Moment, states that while the coalition agrees the SAFE Banking Act “is an incremental step toward rolling back the federal prohibition of marijuana, it fails to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States’ punitive drug laws.”
“As the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs considers similar legislation, we insist that the legislation include provisions that ensure equity in the marijuana industry by creating opportunities for individuals who have been prohibited from this growing business either by legal or financial means,” the letter, which was also signed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and National Association of Social Workers, states.
“Indeed, this Congress has shown it understands the economic impact of legalization. But while progress on the business side of legalization is promising, it is not sufficient. Federal marijuana legislation must be comprehensive and lead with equity, addressing past and current harms to communities of color and low-income communities who bore the brunt of the failed war on drugs. We demand that any marijuana reform or legalization bill considered by the Senate] include robust provisions addressing equity. More than simply adding equity provisions to bills that address industry concerns, we need comprehensive reform that deschedules marijuana and addresses the inequities and harms continually inflicted by the failed war on drugs.”
In other words, the groups are insisting on broad reform prior to a vote on a bill viewed as largely beneficial to the cannabis industry—similar to a request they made of House members prior to the legislation’s passage in the chamber.
Read the marijuana banking letters from the trade associations and civil rights groups below:
GOP Congressman Knocks His Party For Failing To Pass Marijuana Reform
A Republican congressman says that whichever party is responsible for passing federal marijuana reform will “instantly” shoot up in the polls, while lamenting the fact that the GOP failed to do so when they controlled the House.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a vocal advocate for hemp, was asked by Fox Business host Kennedy on Wednesday whether cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law.
“Absolutely,” he said. “The first party that does this—and I don’t understand why either party won’t do it—is going instantly gain 10 points in the general poll on which party versus the other.”
“We should have done it when we were in the majority,” he added. “The liberals should be asking Pelosi why she hasn’t put it on the floor yet.”
The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last month to end federal marijuana prohibition, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action.
Massie made similar points during an interview with Marijuana Moment earlier this year, stating that if Republicans had advanced states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation, “I think we might still be in the majority.”
Of course, while Massie has supported legislation to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal intervention, as well as other more modest reform measures such as protecting banks that service marijuana businesses, he’s so far declined to cosponsor any bills that seek to deschedule cannabis.
The congressman has also expressed interest in changing federal gun control laws to allow cannabis consumers to purchase firearms.
Though it’s not clear exactly how much of a boost either party would get by passing a marijuana reform bill, a Pew poll released last month does show that there’s majority support for legalization among those who lean Republican (55 percent) as well those who lean Democratic (78 percent).
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Rep. Massie.
State Department Warns Travelers About Flying With Cannabis Oil Internationally
The U.S. State Department is warning international holiday travelers that while hemp-derived CBD might be legal in the U.S., it can land you in trouble if you take it certain places abroad.
“Make sure your gift isn’t a fa la la la la la la la la fail,” the department said in a tweet on Thursday. “Bringing along gifts like drones, CBD oils, and firearms can land you in trouble in foreign countries. Research what is and isn’t allowed before you travel.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Flickr/DHS.