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Cory Booker talks marijuana legalization and own experiences with war on drugs

After introducing the most comprehensive marijuana legalization bill in the history of the country, Cory Booker clarified his stances on marijuana in an interview with VICE.

In August, Booker, a Senator from New Jersey, put forth “The Marijuana Justice Act,” which not only called for full legalization of weed nationwide, but also included a fund to help repair communities that have been most impacted by the war on drugs

VICE asked Booker about everything from his own experience with marijuana (he’s never smoked), Republican support of his bill, and the history of marijuana prohibition.

Booker described how he first got into the idea of marijuana legalization by seeing how the war on drugs impacted poorer communities disproportionately,

“It’s been this experience of seeing the hypocrisy within marijuana prohibition, and how it’s destroyed so many lives and communities who get caught up in the war on drugs, while other communities are more easily able to have their breaking of the law exonerated or overlooked. There is a massive injustice being done in a nation that believes in equal justice under the law; marijuana enforcement makes a mockery of that ideal.”

Like many political issues that are inherently social in nature, marijuana legalization has gained some momentum nationally in recent years. Although there doesn’t seem to be much hope that the Trump administration will make legal marijuana a reality, attitudes are certainly changing. Booker compared this to marriage equality and how it has gained majority support over the years,

“It was not that long ago that I was so frustrated that everybody from President Obama to Secretary of State Clinton were not in favor of marriage equality. But before you knew it, people were talking about it and pushing for the change. I don’t want to wait to start calling for what’s right when the political climate might seem advantageous.”

When pressed about the lack of support for marijuana legalization in conservative circles, Booker pointed out the fact that it’s in the entire country’s best interest to lift prohibition. The New Jersey Senator framed it as a moral issue,

“There is no time like the present to fight for what’s right, to advocate for justice. There is no doubt in my mind that the federal government should not be in the marijuana prohibition business. It’s making us less safe, it’s costing taxpayers too much money, it’s violating our values. From every perspective—a libertarian perspective, fiscal conservative’s perspective, Christian evangelical perspective, progressive perspective—marijuana prohibition is just wrong.”

Certainly Booker’s own first-hand experience in communities impacted by prohibition is driving his cause to champion marijuana legalization,

“I am not going to read the political tea leaves anymore, and I am not going to be silent on this issue, especially when I can see—as the only senator that lives in a low-income inner-city community—the damage that has been done over decades of a failed war on drugs.”

Booker is trying to frame marijuana legalization as something that’s inherently American. It makes sense on the surface, I certainly agree with him, but I’m hesitant to believe that conservatives see it that way. Regardless of the actual success of his legislation, Booker is now the most prominent American politician to call for marijuana legalization, which will surely improve his stock in liberal circles.

So while Booker may claim that it’s morally imperative that we legalize weed, he has clear political incentives to champion this cause. Perhaps he’s positioning himself for a 2020 presidential run? The cynic in me tells me that’s at least a part of his initiative.

Read the full VICE interview here.