Like all the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, is pro-reform when it comes to cannabis. He’s made it a major part of his campaign platform, but his name was notably absent from a recent piece of legislation aimed at protecting states with legal cannabis from federal interference.
Booker has been on the record several times supporting state’s rights for cannabis legalization, and he had even signed on to an earlier version of that same bill called the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act. But the bill moved forward without Booker cosponsoring. Booker revealed the reason why in an interview with VICE.
“I get very angry when people talk about legalizing marijuana and then give no light to how marijuana law enforcement was done in ways that fed upon poor communities—black and brown communities. This is a war on drugs that has not been a war on drugs—it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately poor people and disproportionately black and brown people.”
The STATES bill does not go far enough to address the disproportionate harm that prohibition had on brown and black people, Booker said in the VICE interview. Any bill that lifts federal prohibition also needs to expunge the records of everyone that is suffering from prosecution of prohibition laws. He seemed almost critical of some of the other Democratic candidates in a public statement last month where he said other candidates talk about their own use of cannabis like it’s a joke when there are people getting arrested unjustly everyday.
Although he hasn’t co-sponsored the bill, Booker hasn’t said he will vote against it. The bill will need his vote if it’s to have any chance of moving forward. The STATES Act needs to clear the House Judiciary Committee, of which Booker is a member.
Other bills have been making their way through Capitol Hill that would benefit the growing cannabis industry. The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act recently cleared the House Financial Services Committee, which would protect banks from being federally prosecuted merely for working with cannabis-related companies. Another bill that Booker is strongly in support of is his own Marijuana Justice Act.
The Marijuana Justice Act would expunge all records of individuals with convictions for possessing or consuming cannabis from federal courts. And it doesn’t stop there. The act would deschedule cannabis and punish states by withholding funding if they enforce cannabis laws in racist or classist ways. This bill has been introduced and is now in its first committee.
The STATES Act may not need Booker’s sign off to go the distance. The bill is widely seen as a bipartisan, uncontroversial effort when it comes to cannabis reform. However, that hasn’t stopped others from jumping ship. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, also removed her name from the co-sponsor list, but she has been quiet as to why. California advocates suspect this has less to do with the particulars of the bill, and more to do with the fact that she never supported it but needed to show that she did in order to beat her opponent in the last election.