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Booker reintroduces bill to legalize marijuana with support from 2020 rivals

With the support of several of his rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker reintroduced a bill Thursday to legalize marijuana nationwide and expunge federal convictions for possession or use of the drug.

Four of Booker's opponents for the nomination are among the co-sponsors of his Marijuana Justice Act: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Two more co-sponsors, Sens. Michael Bennet and Jeff Merkley, are openly considering runs of their own. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is the only Democratic senator running for president who did not sign on as a co-sponsor.

The bill, which Booker first introduced in 2017, is the latest in a series of splashy proposals by the early field of 2020 candidates who are hoping to capitalize on the energy and enthusiasm of an increasingly progressive base.

CBS News poll in 2018 found 68 percent of Democrats support marijuana legalization, and the party added support for a "pathway to legalization" to its 2016 platform.

In addition to expunging records of marijuana convictions, Booker's bill would also create a community reinvestment fund to "be used for projects like job training programs, re-entry services, and community centers," his office said in a release.

In a Facebook Live broadcast on Thursday, Booker discussed the bill with his co-sponsors in the House, Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna of California. Booker emphasized the importance of repairing low-income communities and communities of color hurt by the war on drugs.

"What ticks me off and gets me very angry is people talking about, 'Adult use, adult use, adult use,' but don't, in the same breath, talk about undoing the damage of an unjust system," Booker said. 

"The government is going to make billions off of [legalization]. And we see how governments are good at redistributing money up in our society," he said. "But what about struggling communities that have been so harmed, not just for a year, not just for 10 years, but for decades? They should get reinvestment in jobs, economic opportunity, education and more."

The bill would also provide incentives to states to change marijuana laws that are found to have a disproportionate impact on poor or minority areas.

"In addition to this being about racial justice, it's about really criminal justice reform, also," said Lee. "You look at the number of black and brown young people who have been incarcerated about marijuana misdemeanors and felonies, it's outrageous. So this begins to crack that school-to-prison pipeline."

Attitudes about marijuana use have shifted in favor of legalization over the last decade. The same 2018 CBS News poll found 60 percent of Americans overall support legalization, up from 40 percent in 2011. Ten states and Washington, D.C., have fully legalized marijuana for recreational use, and several state legislatures are currently considering their own laws.

The hopes for Booker's bill in the Republican-controlled Senate, however, are slim. His 2017 version never reached the floor for a vote.