Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) was jubilant on 4/20. Not because he was high (he doesn’t smoke or drink) but because his colleague, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), had introduced legislation to decriminalize marijuana, marking a major milestone for pot and criminal justice reform advocates everywhere.
“It’s extraordinary that he’s coming out as somebody who has not been out before,” Booker told The Daily Beast in an interview after he spoke at Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network convention in New York. “I think it helps to add momentum to the end prohibition movement.”
Booker has been at the forefront of the decriminalization push, making it one of his major causes as a senator. And while he sees his fellow politicians finally catching up to both him and the mood of the country, he still worries that the framing of the debate is skewed. It is not so much a matter of states rights versus federal rights, he argued, as it is one of privilege.
“I get angry when you see just privileged people, wealthy people suddenly getting into the marijuana businesses and when I see people celebrating,” Booker said, seemingly referencing Friday’s date, “without the understanding that there are people suffering because of past convictions, having had their families destroyed because their wage is suppressed because they can’t get jobs because of what? They got caught for doing things that presidents have done.”
“This has been a sin in a sense, the way we’ve conducted this marijuana prohibition,” Booker added. “I mean you literally have presidents admitting to doing this. You have Congress people that have now openly admitted. People of privilege have had de facto legalized marijuana for a long time. We’ve been punishing poor people, been punishing people of color and that’s got to stop.”
Even prior to Schumer’s announcement, there was legislative momentum for reconsidering marijuana laws. Just yesterday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) co-sponsored Booker’s legislation which would also allow people to have their records expunged if convicted of marijuana possession. Prior to Sanders co-sponsoring the bill, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) had also backed it. Even some of his Republican colleagues, Booker noted, appeared amenable to changing marijuana laws. Among them are Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who recently extracted a promise from President Donald Trump to respect state marijuana laws in exchange for Gardner allowing Trump nominees to the Department of Justice to get votes before the Senate.