Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) announced on Friday 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.
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.”
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.
Last Congress, the legislation garnered six co-sponsors, including other 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), as well as potential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). That Booker was able to secure such high profile co-sponsorships on the wide-ranging marijuana legislation from lawmakers who would become rivals for their party’s presidential nomination reflects how the senator has became a de facto leader on the issue on Capitol Hill.
“Descheduling marijuana and applying that change retroactively to people currently serving time for marijuana offenses is a necessary step in correcting this unjust system,” Booker said in a press release when he filed the bill. “States have so far led the way in reforming our criminal justice system and it’s about time the federal government catches up and begins to assert leadership.”
Jeff Sessions is reviving a losing war on marijuana that is devastating low-income Americans & our communities of color and dashing our ideals of equal justice. We can't let this happen.
That's why I introduced the Marijuana Justice Act to legalize marijuana. Who's with me? pic.twitter.com/OUe10vRbHs
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) January 4, 2018
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 co-sponsored 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.
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
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.
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.
New York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip
The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.
The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).
“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”
Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:
Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.
The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.
Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.
The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.
Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.
Photo courtesy of CBS 6.
GOP Congressman Will Meet Attorney General To Discuss Expanding Marijuana Research
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said on Monday that he will soon be speaking with the U.S. attorney general about expanding marijuana research.
The congressman, a close ally of President Trump, is a vocal proponent of medical cannabis and has argued that the federal drug scheduling system is hampering research into the plant’s therapeutic potential.
“I will be meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr in the coming weeks to discuss the Department of Justice’s approach to unlocking more research grants so that we can have American innovation applied to our health care in a way that can get people off of some of these devastating opioids and painkillers, and on to a more natural product,” he said following a radio town hall event.
Even under the framework of prohibition, the Justice Department is able to promote research by, for example, approving additional marijuana manufacturers—something the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it would do three years ago.
Barr has voiced support for expanding the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers.
“I think we’re going to move forward on it,” the attorney general said in April. “I think it’s very important to get those additional suppliers.”
Earlier this year, Gaetz joined congressional colleagues in leading a letter addressed to Barr and the head of DEA expressing frustration that the Justice Department has declined to take action despite its pledges. The lawmakers implored DEA to “do whatever you can to speed up and improve the research application process.”
Gaetz also introduced legislation that would force DEA to approve additional facilities to produce research-grade cannabis. A version filed last year cleared the Judiciary Committee in a voice vote, and he reintroduced the bill in January but it has not yet been acted upon.
Listen to Gaetz’s new cannabis comments, about 1:20 into the audio below:
DEA is facing two lawsuits regarding its approach to marijuana, including one that concerns the lack of diversity of research-grade cannabis since only one manufacture is currently authorized. The agency was ordered to respond to the suit by August 28.
Separately, a group of patients and advocates sued DEA over marijuana’s Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act, with a federal court directing the agency to “promptly” consider reclassifying cannabis.
Gaetz also spoke about the need to more broadly reform cannabis laws during the Monday remarks.
“The federal government listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug impairs financial transactions, it impairs research and it stops us from being able to unlock cures for some of America’s most vulnerable people,” the congressman said, adding that he’s a cosponsor of legislation that would deschedule marijuana that was introduced by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY).
Gaetz, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he is requesting that the panel hold a hearing on cannabis legislation. That’d mark the second such meeting after a Judiciary subcommittee convened last month to discuss paths to ending federal prohibition.
The congressman’s staff wasn’t able to provide Marijuana Moment with additional details regarding the meeting with Barr.
Photo courtesy of Meredith Geddings.
Elizabeth Warren’s Criminal Justice Plan Involves Legalizing Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites
Legalizing marijuana, granting clemency to people convicted of drug offenses and investing in harm reduction programs such as safe injection sites are part of a criminal justice reform plan that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released on Tuesday.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate stressed that the war on drugs has been carried out in a racially discriminatory manner, writing that it’s unfair that “a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s long past time for us to reform our system.”
“This failure [of the drug war] has been particularly harmful for communities of color, and we need a new approach,” she said. “It starts with legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions, and then eliminating the remaining disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.”
What’s more, the drug war “has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families—and largely failed to curb drug use” when a more effective system would treat addiction as a public health issue.
Next, we have to rethink what we choose to criminalize. That starts with repealing the 1994 crime bill—the bulk of which needs to go—and legalizing marijuana. Overcriminalization has filled prisons and devastated communities—and it's time for it to end.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 20, 2019
That includes diverting people who’ve been convicted of non-violent drug offenses to treatment programs and providing evidence-based resources for people suffering from addiction. For example, Warren’s plan calls for safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who can help prevent fatal overdoses and get people into treatment. She also said needle exchange programs and expanding access to buprenorphine would reduce the opioid crisis.
“Instead of locking up people for nonviolent marijuana crimes, I’ve proposed putting pharmaceutical executives on the hook to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that damage the lives of millions.”
She also called for the abolition of certain mandatory minimum sentences and said that “people who struggle with addiction should not be incarcerated because of their disease.”
“Mass incarceration has not reduced addiction rates or overdose deaths, because substance abuse disorder is a public health problem — and it’s long past time to treat it that way,” the plan says. “We know that diversion programs are both more humane and a better investment than incarceration — for every dollar we invest in treatment programs, we can save $12 in future crime and health care costs.”
“And rather than incarcerating individuals with substance abuse disorders, we should expand options that divert them into programs that provide real treatment.”
Like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Warren’s criminal justice reform proposal also mentions executive actions she could unilaterally take.
Specifically, she wrote that the Justice Department should not hold authority to make clemency recommendations and it should instead be left up to an independent clemency board so that those eligible for a pardons and commutations are more quickly identified.
The president can grant clemency and pardons herself. I'll empower a clemency board to make recommendations directly to the White House, identifying broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, such as those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 20, 2019
“I’ll direct the board to identify broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, including those who would have benefited from retroactivity under the First Step Act, individuals who are jailed under outdated or discriminatory drug laws, or those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished,” she said.
The plan’s unveiling comes two days after Sanders released his criminal justice reform proposal, which also called for marijuana legalization and the implementation of harm reduction policies such as safe consumption facilities.
Buttigieg’s plan stands out from his fellow Democratic candidates in at least one regard: the mayor said drug possession should broadly be decriminalized.
Warren also released a separate plan for Indian tribes last week that involves protecting tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.
Photo courtesy of Edward Kimmel.