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Where Presidential Candidate Cory Booker Stands On Marijuana

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Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) announced on February 1, 2019 that he was running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and dropped out January 13.

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 January 20, 2020 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.”

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.

“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!”

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.

Booker and seven other senators sent another letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) demanding an update on the status of applications to license more  cannabis manufacturers.

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.

During a CNN town hall event in March, Booker said that he would “absolutely” consider mass marijuana pardons if he was elected president.

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.”

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.

“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.

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.”

“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.”

“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.

He made similar points about the reasoning for the line of attack in a third interview as well.

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.

“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.”

“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.

“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.”

“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.

“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.”

He also discussed criminal justice reform in a Late Show appearance and an op-ed he wrote for The Washington Post.

In January, Booker stressed during a campaign stop in New Hampshire that cannabis reform is “not a side issue for me” and discussed the need for legalization.

A super PAC supporting Booker’s candidacy released several ads touting his pledge to legalize marijuana.

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.”

Booker discussed racial disparities in cannabis enforcement at a campaign event in New Hampshire in November.

“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.

“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.

“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.”

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.”

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.

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.”

“Ban private prisons. Legalize marijuana. End the War on Drugs,” the senator wrote in January. “We have a lot of work to do to reform a criminal justice system that’s so deeply broken—but we can start there.”

Following a historic hearing on ending federal marijuana prohibition in the House Judiciary Committee, Booker tweeted that he felt “encouraged” by the development.

“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.

On several occasions during his campaign, Booker has joked that cannabis is safer than french fries.

“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 in one appearance. “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.”

“So the war on drugs has been a catastrophic attack on the safety, security and well-being of our country,” he said in an interview with The New York Times editorial board in December. “Blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for a drug crime than somebody that’s white.”

“We need to stop illegal drugs coming into our country. We need to deal with these large-scale drug operations. But you have to remember that what’s getting driven into our criminal justice system or not what we imagine the large drug kingpins that are causing so much. Right now we have overwhelmingly—in 2017 there were more marijuana arrests for possession, low-level marijuana crimes than all the violent crimes in our country combined.”

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.”

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.

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.”

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 DEA 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.”

“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.”

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.

Where Presidential Candidate John Delaney Stands On Marijuana

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Massachusetts Governor Defends Closing Recreational Marijuana Shops To Prevent Out-Of-State Shoppers

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The governor of Massachusetts doubled down on the state’s temporary closure of recreational marijuana shops during the coronavirus outbreak on Tuesday, telling reporters that allowing them to reopen could exacerbate the health crisis by attracting visitors from states where cannabis remains illegal.

During a press conference, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) was asked about the state’s decision to exclude adult-use stores from the list of “essential businesses” that can continue to operate during the pandemic. He stressed that medical cannabis dispensaries can continue to serve patients but seemed to argue that the lack of regulated marijuana markets in surrounding states is forcing the state’s hand on recreational retailers.

“We are doing a lot of things to try to get people to stay at home,” he said, adding that travel advisories currently instruct out-of-state visitors to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“There is tons of evidence that because Massachusetts is one of the few states in the Northeast that has legalized recreational marijuana, that if we make recreational marijuana available as an essential business—remember, medical marijuana is available as an essential business—if we make recreational marijuana available, we are going to have to deal with the fact that people are going to come here from all over the place across the Northeast and create issues for us with respect to the fundamental issue we are trying to solve for here, which is to stop the spread,” Baker said. “For that reason and that reason alone, I think this is just a non-starter with us.”

Asked whether the state could make it so only Massachusetts residents could access adult-use shops, the governor said “I don’t know if you can do that legally,” though it’s “certainly something that some folks have talked about.”

Baker is facing pressure from regulators and industry stakeholders to allow recreational stores to stay open. Layoffs and furloughs have already started occurring in the market in response to his order.

In a letter to the governor on Monday, dozens of marijuana operators in the state argued that while they appreciate the need to protect public health during this pandemic, shuttering their businesses means people will turn to the illicit, unregulated market for cannabis, and that poses its own set of risks.

Shaleen Title, who serves as a commissioner on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, told Marijuana Moment that public safety “must remain our top priority as Massachusetts confronts the coronavirus pandemic” and she appreciates the governor “for recognizing that even as we strive to minimize unnecessary interactions, access to medical cannabis is essential to the health of tens of thousands of patients in Massachusetts.”

“And I welcome and share his confidence in the ability of the Commission and its medical licensees to operate safely amid the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, including by enhancing sanitation procedures, limiting the number of patrons, and allowing curbside pickup,” she said.

But she parted with the governor when it comes to recreational businesses.

“I believe those same measures, potentially along with a restriction on out-of-state customers, could be applied to adult-use facilities to allow for resumed operations,” she said. “Reopening these businesses would provide access to the many adult-use consumers who rely on cannabis for medical purposes.”

As the U.S. grapples with the COVID-19 outbreak, numerous states are having to decide where to draw the line for cannabis businesses. Many allow both adult-use and medical cannabis dispensaries to operate, with some recommending social distancing measures such as curbside pickup for marijuana products to mitigate the spread of the virus.

According to a recent poll, a majority of Americans agree that medical cannabis dispensaries are “essential services” that should remain open.

Marijuana Legalization ‘Not Likely’ In New York Budget, Governor Says On Eve Of Deadline

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Marijuana Legalization ‘Not Likely’ In New York Budget, Governor Says On Eve Of Deadline

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Marijuana legalization is “not likely” to be included in the final budget in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said on Tuesday, explaining that the issue proved too complicated as the state grapples with the coronavirus.

Another sign that the policy change isn’t happening as Cuomo and advocates had planned comes from a pair of newly revised budget bills that exclude the proposal, making it all but certain that legalization won’t make the final cut.

“Too much, too little time,” the governor said of the proposal during a press conference.

Wednesday is the deadline to deliver a budget, and so the identical Senate and Assembly spending bills that were freshly amended on Tuesday are unlikely to substantially change before they get a vote and sent to the governor’s desk. A provision in Cuomo’s original proposal that would implement an adult-use cannabis market was “intentionally omitted,” text of the legislation states. That phrase is used repeatedly throughout the legislation for policies that missed the cut.

That’s not to say that there’s no appetite for the reform move within the legislature. It was expected to make it into the budget, but the coronavirus outbreak shifted legislative priorities and legalization evidently proved too complicated an issue to work out ahead of the deadline. Top lawmakers have said there’s no reason that they can’t develop a comprehensive reform plan outside of the budget.

However, Cuomo said earlier this month that his preference would be to address legalization through the budget because, outside of that process, “the easiest thing for a legislative body to do is to do nothing.”

The release of the budget bills seems to confirm details included on a draft budget report that was shared with Marijuana Moment on Monday. It similarly said that the “Adopted Budget omits the Executive proposal to legalize adult use cannabis.”

A revised standalone legalization bill was recently introduced in the Senate, and advocates hoped the language would be inserted into the budget, but that didn’t pan out. However, it’s possible that legislators could still take it up separately after the budget is handled. That said, it remains to be seen when the legislature, which has scaled down other activity amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, will be able to tackle the issue.

A spokesperson for the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Liz Krueger (D), told Marijuana Moment on Monday that “nothing is done until it is done, but the Senator has said previously that the Governor’s staff essentially took marijuana off the table weeks ago” in budget talks.

The senator still believes that “if it can’t get done the right way in the budget right in the middle of overlapping public health and fiscal crises, that there is no reason it can’t get done right later.”

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D), who has also sponsored a legalization bill, told Politico that “I wish that it was [included in the budget], but I don’t believe that it is.”

Marijuana Moment reached out to Senate and Assembly leadership for comment about the budget bills, but representatives were not immediately available.

“While legalizing cannabis is necessary to reduce the decades of unjust, racist targeting of communities of color in New York, our state faces a public health crisis right now and efforts to contain COVID-19 demand legislators’ full attention,” Kassandra Frederique or the Drug Policy Alliance said. “We remain committed to seeing legalization passed in New York at a time when critical components of equity and community reinvestment can be thoroughly addressed.”

“The regulation of marijuana in our state must be centered in economic and racial justice now more than ever, because we know the same communities targeted by drug enforcement are the ones with the least access to healthcare right now, the ones grappling with decades of the economic toll from criminalization, with low wages, unstable housing, and the ones losing jobs and loved ones at the same time,” she added. “The creation of a diversified and equitable industry that supports New York-based small businesses and farmers will be imperative coming out of this crisis. When the dust settles and New York has survived this pandemic, these communities that are on the frontlines of this crisis—in addition to the legacy of harmful enforcement—must be the center of our rebuilding effort.”

Prohibitionist group Smart Approaches To Marijuana celebrated reports that legalization would not be included in the budget, stating that “the consideration of marijuana legalization and commercialization during this outbreak is unconscionable and extremely shortsighted.”

Cuomo also originally planned to tour legal cannabis states to learn from their experiences and take lessons back home, but that plan was also derailed due to the coronavirus.

The governor pitched legalization in his budget proposal last year as well. But following months of negotiation, the legislature failed to produce a passable bill—with disagreements centering on issues such as how tax revenue would be allocated—and so the effort carried over to this year.

Cuomo seemed optimistic that 2020 would be the year for legal cannabis in New York, and he touted the proposal in his State of the State address in January. Just last week, he indicated the effort was still alive, though he also recognized that it may prove too complicated an issue to ultimately deliver through the budget this round.

Meanwhile, drug policy reform efforts across the country are struggling amid the pandemic.

Activists in California recently released a video asking California officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. In Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics similarly wrote to the mayor and local lawmakers, imploring them to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

Another California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot. An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

Arizona activists shared some more positive news last week, however, announcing that they have collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot—though they have not yet been submitted to or verified by the state.

Coronavirus Upends Marijuana, Psychedelics And Drug Reform Ballot Measures

This story was updated to include comment from Drug Policy Alliance.

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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DC Activists Have A New Plan To Get Psychedelics Decriminalization On The Ballot Despite Coronavirus

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Activists in Washington, D.C. are considering a new strategy to get a measure to decriminalize psychedelics on the November ballot, with the coronavirus outbreak having forced them to suspend in-person signature gathering.

While Decriminalize Nature D.C. hoped that officials would pass emergency legislation allowing the digital collection of signatures, they aren’t actively considering that option. And the District Council’s chairman said he would not simply place the initiative on the ballot for voters to decide regardless of the signature count.

That’s left the group in a challenging position. But they’re not out of ideas yet.

Now the campaign is exploring the possibility of conducting “micro-scale petition signature collection” to make the ballot. The plan would involve having petitions mailed to supporters, who would circulate it and collect signatures from “registered DC voters in their immediate vicinity, such as family, roommates, friends and close-by neighbors” and then return the signed petitions to the campaign headquarters.

They’ve launched an online survey to determine the feasibility of the option. It asks prospective volunteers to estimate how many signatures they could theoretically collect under that limited scope and provide their mailing information should the campaign decide to move forward with the plan.

This is one of the last remaining options for the 2020 effort, which is working to make a wide range of psychedelics among the district’s lowest law enforcement priorities.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said during a press conference on Friday that he “would not say that we’re looking for legislative action to put [the initiative] on the ballot” outside of the conventional process.

Board of Elections Chairman Michael Bennett also took a question about the prospect of allow electronic signature collection. He said his panel is not considering the possibility “at this point.”

Watch the comments below, starting around 22:15:

Decriminalize Nature D.C. is one of numerous groups working to change local and state drug policy laws. And it’s not alone in its struggle amid the current pandemic.

A California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

Activists in California recently released a video asking California officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

Arizona activists shared some more positive news last week, however, announcing that they have collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot—though they have not yet been submitted to or verified by the state.

Marijuana Legalization Left Out Of New York Budget, According To Draft Summary Document

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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