Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) blasted former Vice President Joe Biden at the Democratic debate on Wednesday over his recent comments opposing the legalization of marijuana, arguing that the policy stance demonstrates how Biden is out of touch with communities of color.
“This week I hear [Biden] literally say that I don’t think we should legalize marijuana,” Booker said.
The pro-legalization senator, however, went on to peddle a stereotype about cannabis consumers, quipping, “I thought you might’ve been high when you said it.”
“Marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people, and the war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people,” the senator said. “There are people in Congress right now that admit to smoking marijuana while there are people—our kids—are in jail right now for those drug crimes.”
The cannabis policy attack comes less than a week after Biden sparked controversy after stating that he’s not in support of legalizing marijuana because “there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug.”
“It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally,” Biden said at the time. “I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”
In response to Booker’s criticism at the debate, the former vice president—who played a key role in enacting harsh drug policies during his time as a senator—said that “I think that we should decriminalize marijuana, period, and I think anyone who has a record should be let out of jail, their records expunged, can be zeroed out.”
“But I do think it makes sense, based on data, that we should study what the long-term effects are for use of marijuana,” he said. “That’s all it is.”
Biden also offered a defense on Twitter, outlining his policy positions, which include a modest reclassification of the drug under federal law.
Following Biden’s earlier gateway drug comments on Saturday, other presidential candidates such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) seemed to offer contrasting cannabis reform visions. High-profile lawmakers such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also weighed in, with the congresswoman telling Marijuana Moment this week that former vice president was employing “Reagan-era talking points.”
Yang, for his part, did not address Biden’s “gateway drug” comments at the debate, but he told CNN in an interview that he expected the former vice president to eventually come around on marijuana reform.
Drug policy reform also came up earlier in the MSNBC and Washington Post debate. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) said it’s “important that we set the record straight and correct the racial injustices that exist in a very institutional way in our country, beginning with things that have to do with our criminal justice system—predominantly, the failed war on drugs that has been continuing to be waged in this country, has disproportionately impacted people of color and people in poverty.”
She added that the country must “[o]verhaul our criminal justice system, working in a bipartisan way to do things like end the failed war on drugs, end the money bail system.”
The congresswoman, who knocked Harris in a previous debate over her role in prosecuting people over cannabis, also argued later in the event that South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg demonstrated his “inexperience in national security and foreign policy” when he recently indicated he was open to deploying U.S. troops to combat drug cartel violence in Mexico.
The mayor pushed back, contending that Gabbard took his “remarks out of context” in an “outlandish” way and that he was simply stating that he would be willing to continue national security cooperation between the countries.