Grading the Democratic Presidential Candidates on Marijuana: Cory Booker
Each Saturday, we have been running a series of blog posts that take a close look at each of the Democratic Party candidates for President in 2020. We examine each candidate’s historic approach to marijuana law and policy, and we also canvas their current respective stances on marijuana.
Stance on marijuana: Cory Booker has a long and storied pro-cannabis history and he has made legalization an important part of his criminal justice reform platform. He is an advocate for legalization, both through his legislative action in the Senate and his words on social media. As stated on his website, he plans to “decriminalize marijuana, expunge records, and restore justice to individuals and communities that have been devastated by the War on Drugs.” It is unclear whether his use of “decriminalization” rather than “legalization” in this statement is meaningful since his rhetoric and his legislative history otherwise demonstrate that he strongly favors legalizing marijuana.
History: In 2014, Booker kicked off his career in the Senate with an issue statement on criminal justice reform that advocated for decriminalizing marijuana. In 2015, Booker co-sponsored the CARERS Act which would reschedule marijuana and protect states who have legalized.
Booker has introduced and sponsored numerous bills aimed at criminal justice reform. In 2018, Booker pushed for the inclusion of sentencing reform in the bi-partisan First Step Act, which was later signed into law. This included reducing the minimum sentences for certain non-violent drug crimes. This past March, Booker followed up the First Step Act with the Next Step Act. If passed, this new bill would reduce minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, eliminate the disparity between the penalties for crack and cocaine, and decriminalize marijuana (and expunge criminal records of marijuana related charges).
Back in 2017, Booker specifically addressed the legalization of marijuana by introducing the Marijuana Justice Act to the Senate in 2017. If passed, the bill would not only decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, it would also expunge records of past marijuana-related convictions. In an interview this past May, Booker explained that the bill had both “carrots and sticks” to encourage states to address inequities in the enforcement of marijuana laws. Most notably, the bill would punish states that do not legalize marijuana and that are determined to disproportionately arrest certain populations (specifically minorities and low-income people) for marijuana charges.
When the Marijuana Justice Act was first introduced in August of 2017, Booker was its sole sponsor. The bill is now co-sponsored by five other presidential candidates. Booker’s bill largely reflected the American public’s increasing support for the legalization of marijuana, but he deserves credit for shaping the marijuana platforms of his fellow candidates.
Conclusion: Booker receives an “A+” grade. From the beginning of his career in the Senate, Booker has dedicated substantial effort towards legislation focused on criminal justice reform, including the legalization of marijuana. He is not only an outspoken advocate of legalization but he has taken the lead on legislation to reform marijuana laws. When it comes to cannabis, there is no better presidential candidate than Cory Booker.