Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is in presidential campaign mode and he has made marijuana reform a critical foundation for his platform. So why is he not cosponsoring new bipartisan legislation to protect legal cannabis states from federal interventions introduced in Congress last week?
The Senator signed an earlier version of the bill that was filed last year. And he has repeatedly said that states should have autonomy to suspend their own marijuana policies. It would be implemented under the proposed bill, but he refused to add his name as an original co-sponsor to the strengthening of the 10th Legislative Government (STATES) Act.
The rationale behind his decision was unclear until Tuesday when Booker told VICE that Matt Laslo was holding back his support because the bill didn't go far enough to repair the racially disproportionate distortions.
"At this point, it is too obvious and urgent and unfair that we move something to marijuana at federal level, and it does nothing about restorative justice," he told VICE. "I want the bill to have some recognition of the unfair injustices that the marijuana ban has done for societies."
"I get very angry when people talk about the legalization of marijuana and then do not shed light on how marijuana law enforcement was done in ways fed on poor community-black and brown communities. This is a war on drugs that has not been a war on drugs ̵
"We have basic laws in this country that have treated people differently," Booker said in separate comments last month. "I hope all of us, when talking about marijuana legalization or marijuana decriminalization, in the same breath, we have to talk about postponing records of all who are still suffering."
Under Senator's own Marijuana Justice Act, federal courts would have to issue registrations of people with convictions to have or consume cannabis. It would also go further by federal de-regulation of cannabis and criminal law states that enforce marijuana laws in a racist or socio-economically disproportionate manner by detaining certain federal funds. And the money saved would go towards society's reinvestment efforts as job training programs.
"Senator Booker is true that for any marijuana legalization bill to pass Congress, it must have robust racial justice provisions" Michael Collins, director of national affairs of the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. "We need to take steps to correct the accident on the war on drugs, and we hope that more members of Congress will embrace Booker's position."
It is already clear that Booker is working to distinguish itself from the present population of pro-legalization of Democratic presidential hopefuls. For example, he seemed to make a blurred criticism of beds Kamala Harris (D-CA) after she had made a gentle admission that she used marijuana during college.
"We have presidential candidates and congressmen and senators who are now talking about their marijuana using almost as if it's fun," he said last month. "But in the meantime, in 2017, we had more arrests for marijuana possession in this country than all the violent crime arrests combined."
In the same campaign, Booker also stopped "Don't talk to me about the legalization of marijuana unless in the same breath you speak to me about postponing the records of the millions of people suffering from not being able to find a job, "exploit his legislation.
Booker's criticism of what he sees as the inadequacies of state law filed by competing presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) could allow a senator to separate from the package in the race. Although Warren and Harris, along with other participants, also signed as co-sponsors of his Marijuana Justice Act.
The STATS Act is a relatively non-controversial, two-sided bill on cannabis reform in Congress. It has a States' rights focus that has appealed to even some historically anti-marijuana lawmakers such as Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) approved the law in a letter to the President of the House Judiciary Committee.
"[I] t sounds like I have to talk to Cory Booker about setting up a federal state conflict," said Cory Gardner (R-CO), the Senate State Senate State Supreme Republican cosponsor, to VICE . "This is about setting a conflict in federal and state law to be done, and it's pretty simple. So I think he would be hard pressed to vote against it."
To be clear, while Booker holds his name as co-sponsor of the bill, he has not said he would vote against it – a perspective that would almost certainly sink his chances of clearing the jury that he is a member of if he is being considered there.
In the 116th Congress, the state law also seems to have revealed further political insults in the marijuana policy within the democratic party. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) removed his name from the original cosponsor's list after supporting the last version, but lawyers suspect that the decision reflects what they see as the Senator's disingenuous prior support, which came in the midst of a re-election match with progressive challenger, state Sen. Kevin de Leon (D).
Sen. Dianne Feinstein Signs Of Marijuana Bill After Decades Of Drug War Advocacy
Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.