Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) says that addressing the country’s gun violence epidemic requires a holistic understanding of the “root problems” that are “correlative of violence”—from poverty to housing security to mass incarceration driven by discriminatory marijuana criminalization.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, the senator said that, too often, the conversation around gun violence prevention fails to take into account the laws and policies that “create environments where violence proliferates.”
“High lead poisoning levels, high poverty levels, inadequate housing—I could go on and on and on,” Booker said. And taking that a step further, he pointed out that incarcerating people for low-level offenses like cannabis possession contributes to cycles of poverty and job insecurity that foster environments where violence can manifest.
“What frustrates the hell out of me is cities have too much of the policing we don’t need, where I watch kids getting arrested for doing things kids at Yale and Stanford did when I was there,” Booker said. “Now they’ve got records and can’t get jobs because they were arrested on marijuana charges when we have had presidents and senators bragging about their pot usage.”
“What that does economically to a city is stunning when you have mass incarceration for low-level non-violent drug crimes,” the senator said.
Watch Booker discuss marijuana criminalization’s consequences, starting around 1:56:08 into the video below:
Booker has repeatedly discussed the criminal justice double-standard in terms of marijuana enforcement, often citing the disconnect between the relative lack of consequences for primarily white students at Ivy League colleges who use cannabis compared to Black and brown people who face disproportionate arrests over the same activity.
It was one of several recurring talking points that he was known to make during his 2020 presidential campaign, which he also used to more broadly advocate for federal cannabis legalization.
To that end, the senator has previously sponsored comprehensive reform legislation. This session, however, he’s largely focused on pushing for the inclusion of equity-centered provisions in a bipartisan cannabis banking bill that’s moved through a Senate committee and is pending action on the floor.
He’s argued that the failure to advance a banking fix for the industry “literally means that hundreds of businesses go out of business.” While Booker previously vowed to block the banking legislation before legalization is enacted, his rhetoric has shifted in recent sessions as he’s embraced the incremental reform so long as it’s paired with provisions to address the harms of the drug war.
In April, the senator also said that it’s been “frustrating” to see marijuana legalization fall short of equity goals, which he said is partly due to ongoing federal prohibition. And while he’s pushing for reform, he notably characterized cannabis as a “dangerous” drug that hasn’t been studied enough.
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