Democratic US Senator Cory Booker’s name is no stranger to the media, but he blew Twitter up the morning of August 1 with this nonchalant announcement:
“Today at 12:30pm ET I’m introducing the Marijuana Justice Act to legalize marijuana at federal level.”
The 23.5K likes the tweet has received since then is indicative of the movement's popularity. But what exactly does this legislation encompass, and will it even have a shot at becoming law?
Cory Booker: A Politician for the People…
New Jersey Senator Booker’s agenda seeks to serve everyday New Jerseyans through criminal justice reform, job creation, continued Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts and alleviating the economic pressure middle class families face today. Booker’s compassion for marginalized communities stems from his childhood. His parents faced housing discrimination because of their race, but, because of the intervention of housing rights activists, they were eventually able to buy their first home in a suburban neighborhood that originally turned them down. These experiences inspired Booker to devote himself to his community and to utilize his education to empower others. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in sociology from Stanford University. During his tenure at Stanford, he played varsity football, served as senior class president, and operated a student-run crisis hotline. A Rhodes Scholarship enabled him to attend Oxford University upon graduating from Stanford, where he led a mentoring program for disadvantaged youth. Booker received his Juris Doctor from Yale Law School.
While there, he ran a free legal clinic program for New Haven’s low-income residents
Before becoming New Jersey’s first black senator after being elected to fill late Senator Frank Lautenberg’s term in a 2013 special election, Booker served as Newark’s mayor. Under Booker’s leadership, Jersey’s largest city experienced significant economic growth, crime declination, increased access to affordable housing, improved city services, expanded green spaces and parks, and additional educational opportunities.
…Or an Elitist, Traitor, and Big Pharma Surrogate?
Despite his record as Mayor, Booker’s arrival to Washington wasn’t as celebrated by liberals as one may have expected. Booker is as standard a progressive as they come. He’s pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, pro-welfare expansion, and pro-tax increases on the rich. But as a 2013 article by the Atlantic explained, some liberals seemed to hate the guy. The article identified two primary critiques progressives had of the then Newark Mayor: he was an elitist sell-out, and he was self-absorbed. Booker did raise a lot of money from Wall Street. But his relationship with the financial industry is logical and geographical. Lots of financial firms are based in New Jersey. Moreover, receiving funding from Wall Street isn’t unprecedented. Booker’s Democratic predecessors also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the financial industry. This might not be a great pattern, but it certainly isn’t a uniquely Cory Booker problem. Earlier this year, an image placing Booker at the top of a list of Democratic senators who voted against cheaper medicines and took money from Big Pharma since 2011 went viral, and it wasn’t a good look for Cory. However, when Politifact fact checked the veracity of the image’s implications, it found that “the statement contains some elements of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, so [they] rate it Mostly False.” According to Politifact’s analysis, Booker and the other listed senators did receive some money from the pharmaceutical industry, but not as much as the image suggests, and while they did vote against one amendment including a provision that would lower drug prices, each of them has also voted in favor of an amendment that specifically advocated for the lowering of drug prices. In response to the backlash that he received for taking any donations from Big Pharma,
Booker announced in June 2017 that he would suspend receiving funding from the pharmaceutical industry
Critics also noted that his campaign had received almost $1 million from Silicon Valley. Additionally, Booker’s attempt at a startup was invested in by wealthy techies, and while the startup’s longevity was cut short, it was successful in making him a millionaire. But Booker’s relationship with Mark Zuckerberg led to a $100 million donation for the improvement of Newark Schools. And while Booker made money from his startup, he also cut his mayor’s salary twice. Booker lived in one of the worst housing projects in Newark for eight years. Rather than escaping the trenches when those projects were demolished, he then chose to live in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. To raise awareness on drug dealing, Booker went on a ten-day hunger strike. He spent a week living on the budget of someone who receives food stamps. While some would laud these acts as compassionate, Booker’s critics have called them self-aggrandizing stunts. These criticisms—that Booker is a sell-out and a narcissist—don’t hold much water when considering his highly-publicized introduction of legislation for the legalization of cannabis at the federal level.
The Marijuana Justice Act
Cannabis legalization is an extremely polarizing topic. While most Americans are in favor of its regulation, a combination of ignorance, fear, and greed continue to fuel the opposition movement. Booker’s introduction of this law is politically risky. Its likelihood of success isn’t all that promising given the Republican-controlled Congress. And the move isn’t going to make him any friends in the pharmaceutical industry. Sure, Booker’s critics could call this another political stunt. However, given what the law entails, it seems like he is primarily motivated to end the waste and harm caused by the prohibition of cannabis.
Here are the highlights of Booker’s law:
It would remove cannabis from the drug schedule. It would financially incentivize states to legalize cannabis by withholding criminal justice funding from states that have refused to legalize cannabis and have demonstrated racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates. Funds withheld from prohibitionist states would be reappropriated to a “Community Reinvestment Fund” that would be used to assist communities most affected by the war on drugs. The Fund would assist with job training, criminal reentry programs, community centers, public libraries, youth programs, and health education.
It would facilitate the expungement of federal cannabis convictions and the resentencing of convicts currently serving federal marijuana sentences
Though the bill has little chance of passage, it puts pressure on Congress—once again—to consider the massively deleterious impact prohibition has had on the nation’s most marginalized communities. And who knows… Republicans could sure use a win these days, and there is no law that says Republicans can’t progress a little too.