Politics

Cory Booker introduces bill to legalize marijuana nationwide, with support from fellow 2020 candidates

Key Points
  • Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced a bill on Thursday to legalize marijuana nationwide as he mounts his 2020 presidential campaign.
  • Co-sponsors include fellow 2020 Democratic contenders Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand.
  • The bill comes as increasing numbers of states are legalizing marijuana on the local level and public opinion has shifted in favor of legalization.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) speaks at the Netroots Nation annual conference for political progressives in New Orleans, Louisiana, August 3, 2018.
Jonathan Bachman | Reuters

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., introduced a bill on Thursday to legalize marijuana nationwide as he mounts his presidential campaign.

Co-sponsors of the bill, known as the Marijuana Justice Act, include fellow 2020 Democratic contenders Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kamala Harris of California and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Booker first introduced the bill in 2017, but it was not taken up for a vote.

The bill comes as increasing numbers of states are legalizing marijuana on the local level and public opinion has shifted in favor of legalization.

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Ten states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana, and leaders in New York and New Jersey have signaled their intentions to legalize. Local governments cite the racial disparities in criminal sentences for drug offenders, which tend to disproportionately affect blacks and Hispanics, as well as increased tax revenues as reasons for legalization.

Earlier in the week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, announced a plan to revitalize the city's aging subway system partially funded by tax revenue from legal marijuana.

However, cannabis is still illegal on the federal level. Booker's bill would remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances, while also providing financial incentives to states to loosen their marijuana laws.

The bill also aims to reverse the damage done to those who were prosecuted for marijuana use by expunging federal crimes and allowing offenders to petition courts for shorter sentences. The sentencing reforms mirror those included in the landmark criminal justice bill that passed last December, known as the First Step Act, which Booker also sponsored. The federal bill eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and gained unprecedented bipartisan support including from President Donald Trump.

"Black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white peers even though they use marijuana at similar rates," Booker tweeted. "If we truly want to be a fair and just nation we need to correct for this disparate treatment of enforcement practices."

The bill would also invest funds into job training and other social services in "areas hardest hit by the failed drug war," Booker tweeted.

Despite growing support for marijuana legalization in Washington, the bill is likely to face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate, overseen by majority leader Mitch McConnell.

Last May, the Kentucky senator said, "I do not have any plans to endorse legalization of marijuana," when asked about a bill introduced by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York to decriminalize the drug. McConnell declined to comment on Booker's bill.

Booker did not immediately respond to requests for comment.