CNN "Erin Burnett Outfront" - Transcript: Interview with Cory Booker


Date: July 14, 2021
Issues: Marijuana


BURNETT: Recent polling shows use on marijuana have dramatically shifted as some states have already begun legalizing the drug at the state level. So now here's the numbers, nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults saying marijuana should be legalized, which is up 20 percent just since 2011. It's a huge change in perception.

OUTFRONT now Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey who introduced this new draft bill with the majority leader today. Sen. Booker, this is a topic you feel strongly about, you've done a lot on over the years. Why is this so important to pass right now?

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): Well, first of all, this is a monumental day never before has a majority leader of either party endorsed the bill. When I started this effort when I came to the Senate, it was a very lonely day. But not only have opinions shifted, what's important about this bill is to not look at it as a marijuana bill, but as a restorative justice bill. We have last 2019 more marijuana arrests, most of them for possession than all violent crime arrests combined.

And so we're still seeing a stunning amount of people being arrested in this country. If you have a criminal conviction for doing things that half of the last four presidents have done, your life is destroyed. You can't get a job. You can't get a business license. You can't get a loan from the bank.

So to have a nation right now where thousands of people, many of them who need it as their medicine who are suffering criminal convictions, who are being disproportionately incarcerated for this because of the color of their skin, all of these things make this a social justice issue, a criminal justice issue and a restorative justice issue.

BURNETT: Now, on this point, President Biden does support decriminalizing marijuana, but his views on the drug overall are generally more conservative than that of many Democrats. Here's what he said last week after the U.S. track and field star, Sha'Carri Richardson, was suspended for marijuana use.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The rules are the rules and everybody knows what the rules were going in. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Do you know if the President personally supports the legislation?

BOOKER: Well, I've had a lot of chances on the campaign trail to talk to the President Biden about this. The reality is states are going to have to abide by the federal laws. Right now states are moving to legalize, because it's put on a schedule of one drug and because it's illegal on the federal level, they are not in compliance with the federal law.

So what President Biden wants on the federal level, yes, let's decriminalize it on the federal level so that states that are moving in this direction can do what they want to do. But dear god, in a nation where we have presidential candidates, Senate candidates, congressional candidates, many people in this body openly admitted they've done marijuana and they, as privileged people can, enjoy no consequence.

When black Americans are almost four times more likely to be incarcerated for marijuana even though there's no difference in usage, we have a law that is unjust.


And so, things like this incredible Olympic athlete who had her career destroy over unjust laws in the United States is a shame. And prohibition has caused real problems in this nation.

And, look, at a time that we want police resources focused on violent crimes, on theft, larceny to have them so tied up and prosecuting a war disproportionately against vulnerable people of that -- again, that legislators themselves have done, this is hypocrisy at its highest extent. It makes no sense.

And justice delayed is justice denied. That's why we're moving this now.

BURNETT: So I want to ask you another question while I have you, another big issue that you've been working on, Senator, and that is police reform where you've been negotiating with Republican Senator Tim Scott for months on a policing bill.

He tells CNN, quote, I don't think we can do this after this month if we are not finished.

It's Bastille Day, you're half way done. You've got two weeks.

He's given you until the end of the month. Is that an ultimatum? Do you think you guys can do this by then or could this fail?

BOOKER: Look, if you told me that we would have gotten the FOP, the Fraternal Order of Police, by far, by tens of thousands, the big biggest union in the state, to come forward and partner with me in a real efforts at reform, to get the International Association of Chiefs of Police, another of the most reputable law enforcement organizations, to support some compromise bill -- we've come so far on this, to have it fall apart in the final moments is unacceptable.

So, Senator Scott and I have been working diligently on this. We both have shared publicly our own personal stories. This is the first time in American history three black men serving in the Senate at the same time.

And I tell you, we both know that there needs to be more transparency. There needs to be more accountability. There needs to be a different set of standards in this country.

That's what I'm insisting upon and I'm not putting any artificial deadlines. There's too much at stake here. I'm going to work as hard as I can to get this done until people tell me they can't.

BURNETT: All right. Senator Booker, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

BOOKER: Erin, as always, it's great to be on. Thank you.