01/07/18 Cory Booker

Movement leaders and elected officials are speaking out against this week's decision by the current administration to rescind previous guidelines on marijuana enforcement, returning to the policies of the Bush and Clinton eras. On this week's show, we hear from a leading Congressional drug policy reformer, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).

Century of Lies
Sunday, January 7, 2018
Cory Booker
Download: Audio icon col010718.mp3



JANUARY 7, 2017


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

On January Fourth, the Justice Department issued a new memo to prosecutors regarding marijuana enforcement in legal states. This new memo, signed personally by Attorney General-for-the-moment Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, rescinds all the previous memos that were issued during the Obama administration and officially returns the Justice Department to the policies of the Clinton and Bush administrations.

The Ogden and Cole memos in the Obama administration were important symbolically, yet they had limited effectiveness when it comes to actually curbing law enforcement excesses. In spite of the official spin, the Obama administration carried out a number of raids against medical marijuana businesses and also exerted pressure on landlords, even threatening forfeiture.

Those memos were a symbol that under Obama the diehard drug warriors were not going to be in charge, yet they only kept the DOJ on a very loose leash. Still, they were at least a little restrained, but now the leash has come off.

To be clear, we do not know what the administration will do next. The marijuana industry is not going to go away no matter what the feds do, thereÔÇÖs no question of that. But if anyone is still saying oh they wouldnÔÇÖt dare try anything against marijuana businesses because it would be stupid, then those people are just not paying attention to this administration.

Businesses have to keep moving forward, but if youÔÇÖre a responsible business owner in the marijuana space, whether itÔÇÖs the medical or the adult social use area, then there are two things you must do: you need to be prepared, and you need to be politically involved.

Being prepared means more than just having an attorney on speed-dial, though that is a good idea, and actually that number should be at reception. Being prepared also means raid trainings. Americans for Safe Access used to do raid trainings for dispensaries throughout California, they used to be standard practice. For the most part that came to an end after Obama took office, a shortsighted decision but letÔÇÖs not dwell, the point is, if you are in the marijuana industry, you must adopt the Boy Scout motto: be prepared.

Raid training in the marijuana industry is as practical as a fire drill. I mean, thereÔÇÖs a good chance that you may not need that training, but if you do end up in that situation and you havenÔÇÖt been trained in what to expect and how to react, then god help you, because those cops will be carrying real guns and they will treat you and your employees like real criminals.

The other thing that businesses need to do is be politically involved. At one level, that means being involved locally. Be a part of the neighborhood business association, get to their member of the city council and the county commission as well as state legislators. It also means being involved at the state and national level by being part of organizations like the National Cannabis Industry Association, NORML, MPP, Americans for Safe Access, and the Drug Policy Alliance.

Now if we do this right: get prepared, get political, and have the courage of our convictions, then the legal marijuana industry, and the broader drug policy reform movement that created it, will survive this ugly national nightmare and come out stronger and bigger and better than ever before.

Thankfully, marijuana reform and other drug policy organizations are stepping up to the challenge, as are the elected officials who have been our champions. But they canÔÇÖt do it by themselves. They need us. We have to stand up and speak out, loudly and clearly.

We can and will hold that ground and we will once again make forward progress. It wonÔÇÖt be easy. Freedom never is. IÔÇÖve always said that prohibition will fall, that decriminalization and legalization are inevitable, yet that is only true because we make it so.

After the Justice Department made its announcement, two US Senators spoke out against the move from the floor of the Senate. Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, denounced the move and threatened to put a hold on federal judicial appointments until the administration changes its mind.

Later that afternoon, Senator Cory Booker, the Democrat from New Jersey, denounced the move and laid out the reasons why marijuana legalization and drug policy reforms must keep moving forward. Senator Booker was most eloquent and his speech quite moving, so on todayÔÇÖs show weÔÇÖre going to give it a listen.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): Earlier on this day, the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Department of JusticeÔÇÖs policy known as the Cole memo.

The Cole memo is a policy issued under the Obama administration instructing prosecutors to shift away from a focus on nonviolent marijuana crimes and towards more serious crimes that threaten our communities. This memo was a critical step and a move in the right direction, undoing some of the catastrophic damage that has been caused by the failed War on Drugs.

It is a step forward for the Federal Government in mending our broken drug policies that have so hurt our Nation in so many ways. I believe it is a step forward that the vast majority of Americans who believe the War on Drugs failed agree with. It' a step forward that improves AmericansÔÇÖ safety, saves money, and better aligns our laws with our most fundamental values of fairness, equality, and justice.

But yet today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has instructed the Department of Justice to not just double down on failed policy but to turn back the clock and undermine the well-being of our country. The policy change actually goes against what Jeff Sessions promised elected officials in this body before his confirmation. We already heard from the other Cory in the Senate -- Republican Senator Cory Gardner -- that he had a commitment from the Attorney General before his confirmation that this is not what he would do.

And so this is an attack on our most sacred ideals and the very purpose of the Department of Justice, which is to protect Americans, to elevate ideals of justice, and to do right by people. It is a failure of this administration, who said, as our President said during his campaign, that he would honor what States are doing. It is a betrayal by our Attorney General, who gave a commitment to at least one Republican Member of this body.

But most significantly, it is hurting -- it will hurt America. It ignores the fact that there is a growing bipartisan consensus that the War on Drugs has failed. It sacrifices our critical, urgently needed resources in our communities, violating our values, destroying families, and it's failed to make us safer.

Let me walk through those four points one by one. First, this massive waste of public resources urgently needed in other areas. We have spent in the last four decades in this country, so much money on these policies at the same time that we are disinvesting from public education, from our public colleges, disinvesting from investments and innovation, investments in science and research, but yet have spent trillions of dollars on this failed War on Drugs.

We have created a nation that says we are the land of the free, but we are the incarceration nation on the planet Earth. One out of every four incarcerated people on this planet is imprisoned here in the United States of America. One out of every three incarcerated women on the planet is incarcerated right here in the United States of America.

Between the time of 1990 and 2005, we have devoted so much of our resources to building new prisons. During that time, we were building a new prison in the United States every 10 days to keep up with the massive amount of people who were being driven into our prisons. One new prison was being built every 10 days as our infrastructure and our roads and bridges crumbled.

We have sidelined the resources of our law enforcement officials. I know this, having been a former mayor. The precious time, resources, and energy of our law enforcement officials have been sidelined, redirecting them to marijuana enforcement, and for what? At a time when we have real issues to deal with in our country, such as a drug epidemic; at a time when people cannot afford treatment and when there are waiting lists for treatment because we donÔÇÖt have the resources to deal with this opioid epidemic, we are instead using our resources to enforce marijuana laws.

The Centers for Disease Control, the CDC, reported last year that 91 Americans die every single day from the opioid epidemic in this country. Meanwhile, according to FBI data from 2014, one American is arrested every single minute for marijuana possession -- one American every minute for marijuana possession. That is about 1,700 Americans being arrested every day for marijuana possession, using police resources, resources to put people in jail, to hold them, to feed them, court resources.

All that can be used better and invested in our society to deal with the ravages of the opioid epidemic. Police resources that could be used to chase after violent offenders are instead being used for marijuana possession. It is somehow crazy that we think we can arrest our way out of a problem. Doubling down on these failed efforts makes no sense. It is a massive waste of our precious resources as a society. No. 2, it is also perpetuating injustice in our country.

We believe that everyone in this Nation should have equal justice under the law. Those are the words written on the Supreme Court. But we know this War on Drugs has not been a War on Drugs, it has been a war on people├ö├ç├Âand not all people but certain people, the most vulnerable people. It has been a war on people, a war on mentally ill people. It has been a war on people of color.

The unequal application of marijuana laws has created a justice system where outcomes are often more dependent upon race and class than dependent upon guilt or innocence. In privileged communities and places all across this country, marijuana is being used with little fear of consequences and openly spoken about and joked about with little understanding of the painful fact that the War on Drugs in America has scarcely affected their lives but the War on Drugs, because of the unequal application of the laws, is affecting people in other communities.

I have seen this personally. I went to Stanford and to Yale, and I watched drug use being done openly├ö├ç├Âmarijuana use. There are no FBI investigations, no sting operations set up to go after the privileged in this country. There are people in this body who openly admit to using marijuana with no consequence. But if you are poor or vulnerable in the United States of America, they are coming after you, and there will be consequences. I have had countless conversations with elected officials about their own personal drug use because it is outrageous to me, this outrageous hypocrisy that they could flaunt drug rules while poor people and people of color suffer as a result of our marijuana laws.

The facts are clear. The disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws has helped to create a system of massive injustice in our country, and it is obvious. There is no difference in America between Blacks and Whites using marijuana, no difference between Blacks and Whites selling marijuana. Blacks are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a White person is. This is a targeting of certain communities, a targeting of low-income people who are having their lives devastated by this unequal application of the law.

Jeff SessionsÔÇÖ announcement today will make the problem worse. People donÔÇÖt understand what it means to have a felony conviction for marijuana possession. Most people have no understanding that this is a lifetime sentence in America. It not only affects the individualÔÇÖs ability to get a job, you canÔÇÖt get a Pell grant if you have a felony conviction for marijuana usage, which many people in this body have done. You canÔÇÖt get a business license with a felony conviction for marijuana. You canÔÇÖt get food stamps. You canÔÇÖt get public housing.

It devastates individuals economically, but it devastates their families as well. It destroys the lives of children when suddenly the earner in their family, who is guilty of no more a serious crime than some of my colleagues├ö├ç├ suddenly they have to pick up the pieces after one of their parents is sent away to prison. Missing 1 or 2 days of work often means losing your job, not being able to make your car payment or rental payment.

We know that for children, where their father is in prison, they are more than five times more likely than their peers to be expelled or suspended from school. This marijuana enforcement is devastating families├ö├ç├Âthe fundamental building blocks of communities├ö├ç├Âand it is devastating communities.

These laws weaken our overall economic health. One study found that if it weren├ö├ç├ût for the mass incarceration explosion as a result of the War on Drugs, the poverty rate in this country would be 20 percent lower. We have a self-inflicted wound by wasting the resources├ö├ç├Âpolice resources and financial resources├ö├ç├Âof this country, and we have another self-inflicted wound by destroying families and communities economically.

It also has hurt our safety as a country. There are communities all across this Nation that worry about the safety of their children, the safety of their families, and the safety of their neighborhoods. By taking these critical resources away from law enforcement, this is a sacrifice of our efforts to make communities safe and strong.

In 2016, more Americans were arrested for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined. How many unsolved murders are there? How many unsolved assaults? How much violence and crime should our police be investigating as opposed to dealing with marijuana prohibition? We have fewer police resources, fewer officers.

We have occupied our prisons with more marijuana arrests than for rape, murder, aggravated assault, or even the unsolved robberies alone in our country because we are spending our precious police resources on marijuana prohibition.

Our history shows this is true. Historians now attest to the complete and utter failure of another prohibition in this country, which is the prohibition of alcohol. It arguably made people less safe. It led to more drinking and was a blow to our economy and the ability of our officers to do their job. It was even a blow to officersÔÇÖ safety and security. If we are serious about making our communities safer or stronger, families more secure, we should be focusing on how to undo the catastrophic damage of marijuana prohibition, not double down on it.

I say all of this as someone who ran a police department in Newark. It was under my authority as mayor. My officers would talk about the churn of people they arrested again and again on nonviolent charges├ö├ç├Âwhich, by the way, many of our law enforcement officers may have engaged in and people in positions of authority, like Senators and Presidents, have done themselves, deepening the distrust between officers and the community.

I saw firsthand how the disproportionate enforcement of our drug laws made communities of mine overcriminalized and underprotected -- overcriminalizing possession of marijuana and underprotecting them on serious crimes. This is an issue which I know too personally. I have seen this from walking privileged and elite communities like universities or here in Washington, and I know it because I may be the only Senator who, when I go home, I go home to an inner-city community. I go home to a community where my census track is about $14,000 per household.

I love my neighborhood. I love my community. I love my neighbors, but it is outrageous to me that communities like mine and all over this country have seen the vicious impact of the War on Drugs, while other communities -- elite communities -- can brag and joke about their marijuana usage.

DOUG MCVAY: You are listening to Century of Lies, we're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.Net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Let's hear Senator Booker.

US SENATOR CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): I am proud that I spent most of my adult life working with the people of Newark, NJ, a city that is rich with culture, that is rich with art, that is rich with civic engagement.

But I know, from Camden to Paterson, to Passaic, to Newark, there are communities like mine that, every single day, are getting the devastating blow of this prohibition├ö├ç├Âthis war on marijuana. I see the anguish people feel about the unjustness and the unfairness of it all and having lives upended for getting caught with small amounts of marijuana. I have seen countless people who couldn├ö├ç├ût find a job or a decent place to live to support their families.

I will never forget, as a city councilman in Newark, waiting in line at the DMV. A guy came over and told me the story that he was issued a uniform. He finally had a job that had a pension. He could support his family and move out of a bad neighborhood into a better one. He was so excited. They ran his record, and 18 years earlier he had a nonviolent, marijuana-related charge, and they took it all away from him. Think about that comparison to the highest office in the land, where marijuana users have occupied with no consequence -- the hypocrisy of it all.

These arenÔÇÖt just a few people. These are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are bearing the brunt of nonviolent charges for marijuana. They have had their lives destroyed. They have that lifetime sentence of, time and time again, having to check a box about a marijuana arrest, having their uniforms taken away, opportunities closed. I have seen how these laws make us less safe.

When are we going to get back to this understanding that we -- all of us as Americans -- put our hand on our heart and we make a pledge. We swear an oath that we will be a nation of liberty and justice, not for the privileged, not for the elite, but we will be a nation of liberty and justice for all.

Countless people have talked about equal justice under the law. They have talked about these ideals and principles from this floor. They talked about it in the suffrage movement. They talked about it in the civil rights movement. It goes all the way back to slavery.

Frederick Douglass, on the 24th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, made a statement that was as true then as it is now. He said: Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

Well, this is the War on Drugs. This is the marijuana prohibition. It has been a systematic oppression of poor people in our country. It has destroyed and devastated individuals, families, communities, and cities. It has bled our national treasure. It has filled our jails to the point where we had to build more and more of them. It has taken away resources from investing in drug treatment or education, which we know not only drives down drug use but empowers people economically.

This is the War on Drugs. This is the war on marijuana. Attorney General Sessions├ö├ç├û policy rescission today will only make these problems worse, at a time that the majority of the American public agrees with me├ö├ç├Âagrees that this prohibition must end. The majority of the American people understand that this policy makes our communities less safe, wastes taxpayers├ö├ç├û money, makes it more difficult for police officers to do their jobs, and ultimately hurts the struggling folks at the bottom of the economic ladder most.

It disproportionately affects Black and Brown Americans. They are the ones who are bearing the brunt of our failure to get rid of this prohibition. LetÔÇÖs be clear about what this setback is. The American people know the War on Drugs has failed. They want change. Republicans and Democrats and Independents in States all across our country are making change at their legislature, at the ballot box -- voting in a repeal of these awful, unfair, wasteful policies all across this country.

In red States and blue States, Americans are marching, are standing up, and are fighting to change these laws. We know States that have legalized marijuana have seen a massive increase in revenue and decreased rates of serious crime. Crime is going down in those communities. They have been able to put more resources to use to address urgent public needs like education and infrastructure.

In Colorado, arrest rates have decreased and State revenue has increased. Washington State has seen a 10-percent decrease in violent crime over the 3-year period following legalization. It is time for Congress to step up to the plate. It is time for us to once again live up to our oath. It is time for us once again to fight to make our country a place of liberty and justice for all.

I know right now Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Trump are standing squarely on the wrong side of history. I know what our ancestors have taught us about the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice. I know this is not a matter of if but a matter of when we will have sane marijuana policies in this country and end the prohibition that is destroying neighborhoods. I know these things.

How long will people suffer? How long will we waste resources? How long will we make ourselves less safe? How long? This fight is more than about a substance├ö├ç├Âa plant. It is more. It is about the soul of our Nation. It is about our ideals. It is about justice.

It is about justice for veterans who rely on medical marijuana to treat their PTSD. They fought for us, they stood for us, and now, according to Jeff Sessions, with the use of medical marijuana to deal with their PTSD, they are criminals. That is not the America I believe in. It is about justice for the man who has a criminal record for doing something that three out of four Presidents have done -- who now canÔÇÖt get a job, canÔÇÖt get a business license, and canÔÇÖt move his family to a better home. This is not justice. This is not the America I know we are.

This is about the mother I stood next to with her child who had Dravet syndrome -- who fell into seizure after seizure multiple times a day -- who was a marijuana refugee, leaving a State that didn├ö├ç├ût end prohibition to go to a State that had medical marijuana laws. According to Jeff Sessions, she is a criminal. This is not our America. This is not the land of truth and justice to treat a parent like that├ö├ç├Âlike a criminal.

This is about families and communities that too long have been fractured by the inaction of this body to address the overcriminalization of our country. This is about the very values people fight for and stand for. This is about who we will be. We cannot fall into this Nation where the privileged and the elite have certain laws and the poor and the struggling have others.

What Jeff Sessions did today is unconscionable, unacceptable, and I will fight against it because when I go home, I see the communities in struggle. I canÔÇÖt turn my head and not understand that there are millions of Americans who are hurting from this decades-long War on Drugs. This is a self-inflicted wound that goes deep to the bone of our country. It undermines our health and well-being, and too many suffer because of it. We have to fight.

I feel this sense of hopefulness because around this country, Democrats and Republicans on the State level are making changes. They are marching forward. They are undoing past wrongs. I feel a sense of hope and promise, and even though today we were delivered a painful blow by our Federal Government to cast a shadow against every American citizen who is using medical marijuana -- every American citizen who is doing things Senators have done -- I still know that truth will go marching on.

I still know we are a nation of justice. I know we are better than this, and I know what our future holds. I ask my colleagues to reject this action by the Attorney General, to speak out against this devastating reality. There are Senators here who represent States where the people have spoken. It is now time we speak for the people. It is now time we speak for our countryÔÇÖs ideals. It is now time we donÔÇÖt just speak the words of our pledge but we make this country, in truth, a nation of liberty and justice for all. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, speaking from the floor of the US Senate in response to the announcement by the current administration that they have rescinded previous guidances relating to marijuana and are returning the Justice Department to the policies of the Bush and Clinton years.

Again, we donÔÇÖt really know for sure what this move will entail. It could mean very little, it could mean targeted enforcement efforts, it could mean a full-court press. Time will tell. And really, the impact of those memos is hard to gauge. Symbolically of course they meant quite a lot, yet they were merely guidelines.

At a practical level, what really stops the DOJ from going after state-legal medical marijuana businesses is the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment to the DOJ appropriations measure. That rider prevents the Justice Department from spending any funds to go after state-legal marijuana programs, which courts have interpreted to include legal businesses in those states. That rider has to be added to each yearÔÇÖs appropriations bill.

The new appropriations measure for Fiscal Year 2018 is late, and must be approved by January 19th in order to prevent a government shutdown. Write, email, or call your member of Congress to let them know you support marijuana law reform and the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment. For more information about that amendment and what you can do to help make sure that that amendment remains law, get in touch with Americans for Safe Access at SafeAccessNow.org.

And, that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. IÔÇÖm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about the drug war and this century of lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.