Newark Mayor Cory Booker won the Democratic primary election last night, setting him up as the expected winner in the contest for New Jersey’s open Senate seat. Booker’s victory in the general election is not certain, but it’s pretty close to a sure thing, which means he is now poised to become the most vehement advocate for drug policy reform in the Senate.
In December, Booker said, “We need to change, I believe, radically change the national conversation and begin to talk about drugs — especially drugs like pot — in a different way.” He also noted how important this is to him. “This is a conversation that, no matter what I do — mayor, governor, senator — I want to be one of the people hopefully trying to lead the national conversation away from this insanity that we have right now,” he said.
And we badly need him in the Senate. The chamber’s only other frequent and ardent critic of the drug war — Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) — is sometimes less-than-stellar in his rhetoric. He referred to marijuana users as “lazy” in a March interview. He also said, “I think even marijuana is a bad thing to do. I think it takes away your incentive to work and show up and do the things that you should be doing. I don’t think that it’s a good idea.” That Paul is the best we have in the Senate right now is unsettling.
Booker’s entry into the Senate could be even more substantial for us because of his star power. Not only is he a genuine hero — in 2012, he ran into a burning building to rescue a woman — he also has the potential for a meteoric rise. This morning, following the news of his victory, a Washington Post columnist wrote, “from the get-go, he would be poised to become the highest-profile member of the Democratic Caucus.”
Booker’s victory comes in the wake of a major announcement on Monday by Attorney General Eric Holder that the Department of Justice will modify it’s prosecutorial procedures in order to avoid triggering mandatory minimum prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders who are not connected to a larger criminal organization. While that announcement was a welcome step in the right direction, it’s not far enough. But Holder’s announcement has sparked a needed discussion on the topic and has galvanized support from editorial boards across the country. Booker’s triumph also comes on the heels of a federal judge on Monday declaring the “Stop and Frisk” policy unconstitutional and the Comptroller of New York City this morning calling for the legalization of marijuana.
This confluence of events is yet another indication that the tide has shifted our way. The implications of Booker’s victory on drug policy could be the best — yet least noticed — news for our movement in what has shaped up to be a week filled with good news.