Cory Booker Makes Federal Marijuana Legalization a Central Campaign Push

Democrats approached the issue carefully in 2016. Now six presidential candidates are all-in for complete reform.


Cory Booker

If you need an example of how much public opinion has shifted on marijuana legalization, check out Sen. Cory Booker's Twitter feed, where the Democratic presidential candidate has turned his federal pot decriminalization bill into a central plank of his platform.

He's not alone: Several other declared Democratic candidates have signed on to Booker's reintroduction yesterday of the Marijuana Justice Act. The bill would completely strike marijuana off of Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act, ending its status as a prohibited drug on the federal level. The bill also ends federal bans on import and export of marijuana. It would order the expungement of the records of people with previous federal convictions for marijuana use or possession, and it would threaten to withhold Justice Department grant funding to states that have a "disproportionate" rate of marijuana arrests or jail sentences for minorities or poor people.

When Booker introduced this bill in 2017, it went nowhere. Now he's introducing it again, and his six co-sponsors include fellow presidential candidates Kamala Harris (D–Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D–N.Y.). (The other two co-sponsors are Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats of Oregon.) Another presidential candidate, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii), previously co-sponsored the House version of the bill.

Booker is also using this bill to promote his presidential run, telling folks to text to a number to get more information, which is a typical tactic to harvest phone numbers for future campaign messages.

Compare this push to the Democratic Party's official platform in 2016, which merely recommended downgrading marijuana so that it didn't have the same classification on the drug schedule as heroin. Bernie Sanders' supporters had to fight for just that. Striking it entirely from the Controlled Substances Act was not on the table, and the goal was to give states some space to experiment.

And that change, as Reason's Jacob Sullum noted back in 2015, was itself a huge deal. Hillary Clinton was ambivalent about full decriminalization, and Sanders' pro-legalization position was almost unprecedented among major-party presidential candidates.

Now six Democratic candidates are looking to completely wipe marijuana out of the Controlled Substance Act, and Booker is actively using that push to draw attention to his campaign.