Cory Booker says Jeff Sessions's 'obsession with marijuana' puts him 'on the wrong side of history'
“I don’t think he has an understanding of how the war on drugs has not been a war on drugs but a war on people and has had a devastating impact on poor Americans and communities of color,” Booker said of Sessions. “We know objectively that blacks and whites have no difference in marijuana usage or selling, but blacks are about 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for it.
“Getting arrested for marijuana usage has more to do with class or race than innocence or guilt,” Booker said, adding that marijuana convictions can have dire consequences, including the loss of federal student loans and access to public housing and diminished job prospects. He said the disparities in marijuana arrest and incarceration rates make Sessions’s directive “something that is violating the ideals in our country of equal justice under the law.”
“It is punishing not just to individual families and children but to entire communities when that enforcement is disproportionately targeted towards low-income folks and frankly towards minorities,” said Booker.
He added: “Three out of the last four presidents have admitted to using marijuana. I went to Stanford and Yale, where people cavalierly used the drug without any fear of consequences. … I serve in a body in Congress where people openly admit to using marijuana. Every single House and Senate member that has tried marijuana … faced no consequences.”
(For his part, Booker told Yahoo News he has never used marijuana. “No. I don’t drink. I’ve never tried marijuana. No on even alcohol,” he said.)
Booker described Sessions’s decision as “hypocrisy” because of Trump’s campaign promise not to interfere with local marijuana laws and vocal support for states’ rights. He also argued the economic and racial disparities in marijuana enforcement have benefited members of Congress.
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Polls show a majority of Americans, particularly millennials, favor marijuana legalization. Booker attributes this, in part, to the value of medical marijuana.
“The American public, I’m sure, feels a deep sympathy and empathy for people that are benefiting from this, whether it’s parents who have kids with Dravet syndrome [a seizure disorder], veterans who are suffering from PTSD, individuals who are using pot as an off-ramp drug from serious opioids,” Booker said.
Booker also rattled off a series of positive side effects that he said have come in the areas where recreational marijuana use has been legalized.
“The reality is, we’re starting to see so much good that’s being done by this, not to mention well over 100,000 jobs in the United States, not to mention the incredible revenues states are receiving, not to mention the fact that places that have done it, like Washington, D.C., where I am right now, have seen drops in violent crime,” said Booker.
Sessions’s decision drew swift criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, which has legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, was particularly harsh in rebukes delivered on the Senate floor and in an interview with Yahoo News. Gardner said the attorney general “went back on his word” after personally promising him that he would not take steps toward stricter marijuana enforcement. Gardner, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, pointed to the revenue and jobs legalization has created in his home state as well as “the question of constitutional states rights.”
Booker predicted Sessions’s directive would increase support for his legalization legislation. He is looking to team up with Gardner on the issue.
“I think it’s going to create more momentum towards my legislation,” said Booker. “My staff’s already reached out to Cory’s staff to see if the ‘Cory caucus’ could come up with some legislation that might be even more amenable to him that could directly respond to Jeff Sessions’s actions.”
Booker laughed when asked if he thinks Sessions would benefit from trying marijuana.
“I don’t know if he has or if he hasn’t. He may have already, but who knows? To me, it’s bigger than any individual in the attorney general’s division or the Senate,” said Booker. “This is really a larger issue of justice. It’s not about a plant ultimately. This is about what’s just and right in our country.”
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