Booker slams Biden on reluctance to legalize weed, says it is 'already legal for privileged people'

Photo of Booker slams Biden on reluctance to legalize weed, says it is 'already legal for privileged people'

For the , hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post, ten candidates (Julián Castro did not qualify for this debate, though he is still running) joined the stage in Atlanta, Georgia. One of the most viral moments from Wednesday night’s debate involves former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. The subject? Black and brown voters. And the topic of black voters swiftly shifted into legalizing marijuana—and a little fact-checking into how many black women have served in the Senate.

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Here’s how this started. Booker, who in good fun pointed out that he himself has been a black voter since he was 18-years-old, noted that “black voters are pissed off” when it comes to politicians who pander to them only when it’s time to get votes, but essentially abandon them when it comes to actual policy and protections. One example in this train of thought? Marijuana legalization.

“This week, I hear [former Vice President Biden] literally say that I don’t think we should legalize marijuana,” Booker stated before uttering one of the most prolific burns of the evening. “I thought you might have been high when you said it … because marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people. The war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people.”

Booker is right that the “war on drugs” has disproportionately impacted people of color. Black Americans are more likely to be arrested for possessing marijuana than white people, even though studies show that people of all races use the drug at about the same rate. Mind you, people of color—particularly black people and Native Americans—are more likely to face police violence or brutality, making arrests even more terrifying. Now in the recreational marijuana boom, white people are making money off of a substance that’s keeping people of color behind bars. This could be a case study of structural racism.

"Do not roll up into communities and not talk directly to issues that are going to relate to the liberation of children because there are people in Congress right now who admit to smoking marijuana, while our kids are in jail right now for those drug crimes," Booker continued. "These are the kinds of issues that mean a lot to our community."

Here’s that clip from Booker, which, aside from offering some humor, is filled with strong points that everyone should hear.

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As Daily Kos previously covered, Biden’s stance on marijuana lags behind his progressive counterparts in the race. As Biden clarified when he responded to Booker last night, he believes, among other things, that marijuana should be decriminalized and in expunging records. Those are all positive steps, to be sure, but compared to candidates who promise to legalize marijuana by executive action (including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders), for example, Biden feels stagnant. His recent comment that marijuana might be a “gateway drug” too feels out of touch with today’s voters.

However Biden’s defense of his stance on marijuana wasn’t what really set things off in that exchange. Instead of keeping it just to his policy ideas on marijuana, the former vice president returned to his record with the black community. And as the viral clip embedded below confirms, it didn’t go too well.

"I am part of that Obama coalition," Biden countered. "I come out for the black community in terms of my support." Nothing too off track there. And then comes the enormous gaffe. In an attempt to list black leaders who he says support his campaign, Biden referenced three former chairs of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as a reference to former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, the first black woman elected to the Senate.

Biden then asserted that Moseley Braun was "the only African American woman who'd ever been elected to the United States Senate." Which of course leaves out Harris, who was literally two podiums away from him at the time. Booker quickly pointed out that wasn’t true, and Harris piped in, too.

“The other one is here,” Harris stated as the audience exploded with laughter. In an ideal world, Harris wouldn’t have to deal with this erasure on live television with a smile on her face (or ever), but she handled the moment with a lot of grace.

Biden corrected himself to say that Moseley Braun was the first, which is true.

Here’s that moment:

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Are these flubs dealbreakers in a general election? Of course not. But the exchange highlights a few extremely important issues—getting any kind of minority vote (whether it’s the black vote, the LGBTQ vote, the disability vote, or so on) is obviously a goal of every major candidate. All too often, however, marginalized communities continue to feel abandoned when the pressure fades. It’s no longer acceptable to harken back to past support. Candidates need to evolve and progress and show how their current (or future) actions are protecting the needs of marginalized communities today.

It also doesn’t hurt if a candidate can own up to their gaffes and laugh a little.

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