Cory Booker resists the trend to glamorize marijuana use

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Cory Booker struck a blow against the current trend of hyping past marijuana use by fellow candidates, specifically calling out fellow senators on an MSNBC show Monday night. He’s not taking “senators bragging about their pot use” as a good or helpful message. It isn’t hard to figure out to whom he referred.

“We have presidential candidates — senators — bragging about their pot use while there are kids who can’t get a job because they have a nonviolent offense,” Booker said.

In a radio interview last month, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who is running for president, laughingly acknowledged that she has used marijuana in the past, saying, “Half my family is from Jamaica; are you kidding me? And I did inhale.”

Booker isn’t in the top tier of announced Democratic hopefuls so he has to do something to separate himself from the pack. The candidates at the top of the list are the same as they’ve been for some time now – Biden and Sanders at the tippy-top, as AOC is fond of saying, followed by Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, and Elizabeth Warren. Booker is down in Klobuchar territory so this is actually a rational move for him. Both he and Klobuchar are presenting themselves as the grown-ups in the race. While the others are racing as quickly as possible to the farthest left of positions, Booker has the luxury of trying to rein in the agenda.

Kamala Harris isn’t the only candidate to discuss past marijuana use. Bernie Sanders has done it too, also on The Breakfast Club radio program.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), another 2020 candidate, has also recently spoken about having used marijuana, although his comments were not as widely reported as Harris’s. “Didn’t do a whole lot for me. My recollection is I nearly coughed my brains out, so it’s not my cup of tea,” Sanders said in an interview this month with the same radio program, “The Breakfast Club.”

Harris gave her response to sound cool. It’s her Jamaican heritage, mon. Bernie just went with a hey, I coughed too much to enjoy it kind of response. Booker chooses to give a practical answer and show concern for young people, which I think independent and more moderate Democrats will appreciate more than Kamala’s answer. The voters in the heartland are dealing with record numbers of deaths from drug overdoses from a rampant opioid epidemic (as is the rest of the country) and no doubt do not consider dismissing marijuana use as no big deal a helpful response from candidates. Marijuana isn’t like opioids, I know, but it’s wrapped up in the drug scene. Get off my lawn.

Booker points out that young drug offenders with criminal records experience difficulty in finding employment and he comes at his opinion from a criminal justice reform stance. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) point out that 38% of high school students admit to having tried marijuana. The most troubling aspect of that statistic is the fact that the brains of young people are still developing. Brain development continues into our early 20s. This is something most parents think about.

Senator Spartacus also delivered the same message in Iowa Sunday.

During a campaign stop in Iowa, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked where marijuana fits in his criminal justice agenda. Booker emphasized that “a lot of people have a very different perspective on marijuana than I do.”

“We have presidential candidates and congresspeople and senators that now talk about their marijuana use almost as if it’s funny,” he said. “But meanwhile, in 2017, we had more arrests for marijuana possession in this country than all the violent crime arrests combined.”

He’s right. And with states now legalizing marijuana to reap the benefits of taxation of the product, the blurring of the line between right and wrong grows. It’s smart of Booker to take aim at Harris, especially in light of the fact that she is trying to overcome her record as a prosecutor.

Booker’s jab may offer a window into future Democratic presidential debates, with support for legalization increasingly being seen as the bare minimum requirement on the issue and candidates competing to address its implementation more thoughtfully.

It could also be an early sign that Harris’s record as a prosecutor who oversaw the sentencing of people for nonviolent drug offenses is a vulnerability that Booker and other candidates may seek to exploit before the Democratic electorate, which overwhelmingly supports legalizing marijuana.

Don’t misunderstand him, though. Booker supports legalizing marijuana and wrote a bill in the Senate. He wants a uniform federal law and then the states can opt in or out. He also wants to expunge the records of those with a criminal record for nonviolent marijuana offenses so that they can find employment.

“So I’m all for legalizing marijuana. I have the premiere bill in the Senate to do it,” Booker said. “But you know what my bill says? It doesn’t say just that we should deregulate marijuana on the federal level, we should make it legal and let the states do what they want. But it doesn’t stop there, because do not talk to me about legalizing marijuana unless in the same breath you talk to me about expunging the records of the millions of people that are suffering with not being able to find a job.”

To be honest, I loathe describing Booker as a rational grown-up. He so often proves he is not. In this case, though, he makes a good case for the other candidates to do better on the campaign trail. Beto may want to work on the inevitable questions about his time on the El Paso City Council when he promoted legalizing all drugs, not just marijuana.