Since announcing his candidacy, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has put marijuana legalization at the center of his platform. Launching his campaign in an interview on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Booker right away pushed his support for cannabis reform, citing the need for “equal justice under the law.”
At the heart of Booker’s support for marijuana is the racially disproportionate manner in which marijuana laws are enforced. As a result, he’s introduced some of the most daring marijuana legislation seen in Congress. In March 2019, he joined Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) in introducing the Next Step Act, a sweeping criminal justice bill that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana, expunge records, and reduce harsh mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses.
While Booker strongly supports marijuana legalization, he has made it clear that he will not support legislation that does not also address the impact of the War on Drugs, which disproportionately impacted minority communities.”I really believe that at this point, it must contain justice components,” he said in an April 2019 interview with NJ Cannabis Insider.
In 2017, Booker introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, a wide-reaching bill that would not only end federal prohibition on marijuana, but also encourage states to legalize the substance and penalize those that display marijuana-related incarceration rates that are racially disparate. He reintroduced a new version of the bill in 2018.
Building on his marijuana justice-focused presidential campaign, in June 2019 Booker unveiled his “Restorative Justice Initiative,” a plan that would commute sentences for thousands of people serving time in federal prison for nonviolent marijuana-related convictions. In the plan, Booker says if elected president he will immediately exercise his powers to grant clemency to such individuals.
Booker in 2015 also introduced the CARERS Act, which would protect medical marijuana patients and businesses from federal intervention and encourage more research by requiring the Drug Enforcement Administration to license additional marijuana cultivators. Years later, he reintroduced the bill with bipartisan support.
A consistent critic of the War on Drugs, Booker has also co-sponsored bills to protect states with legal marijuana and banks that work with legally-operating cannabis businesses.
Booker, the former mayor of Newark, New Jersey mayor, also came to the defense of legal marijuana states in 2017 after Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary at the time, suggested the federal government may impose a crackdown. He and 10 colleague senators responded with a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, urging the Justice Department to back off. When Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, an Obama-era guidance document directing prosecutors to not prioritize marijuana enforcement, Booker condemned the move in a speech on the Senate floor.
Additionally, he put his name on a separate 2017 letter to Sessions, imploring the attorney general to not reverse Obama-era policies directing prosecutors to not pursue long mandatory-minimum prison sentences against low-level drug offenders. Booker also joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers in a letter to Congressional leadership, requesting they support a provision that would expand medical cannabis access to veterans.
Booker has publicly voiced frustration over the War on Drugs for more than 11 years. He still speaks frequently of his advocacy for marijuana reform, regularly citing the consequences of prohibition and the need for legalization with restorative justice. As Senator for New Jersey, he has not had the opportunity to vote for any marijuana-related legislation.