In the fight to legalize pot, enthusiasts have largely pointed to the unjust demonization of the drug itself. Weed is no more harmful than alcohol, the argument goes, so why not tax it and regulate it the same way? That logic has carried the day in nearly a dozen pot-legal states from Alaska to California to Maine.
But when Cory Booker, the New Jersey senator and 2020 presidential candidate, looks at the question of legalizing cannabis, he sees the stakes very differently. For Booker, the real problem is the unjust enforcement of marijuana laws — against black and brown Americans, whose usage rates are no different than their white counterparts but who are arrested at astronomically higher rates.
As Congress begins to seriously grapple with the federal legalization of cannabis,Booker has introduced, with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the Marijuana Justice Act. The bill would not simply remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. It would also create a mechanism to expunge the criminal records of many pot offenders and create a fund of at least $500 million a year to repair the damage done to communities that have been unjustly targeted. Finally, it would strip federal money from states that continue to prohibit pot if they do not enforce their laws equitably along racial and class lines.