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Philly420: Differing views on marijuana by Obama, Booker

President Obama does not think marijuana policy should be a top policy priority for young Americans. Maybe that's because he was never arrested for it during his smoke-filled youth.

Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) and President Obama.
Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) and President Obama.Read more

President Obama does not think marijuana policy should be a top policy priority for young Americans. Maybe that's because he was never arrested for it during his smoke-filled youth.

In a sit down interview with Vice News, the President seemed perturbed that legalizing cannabis remains a pressing concern among millennials.

"Let's put it in perspective," Obama told Vice, "Young people, I understand this is important to you. But you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace. Maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana."

But it's not. Writers at the Atlantic and have pointed out that marijuana intersects, in important ways, with all of the issues the President mentioned.

In a perfectly timed juxtaposition Sen. Cory Booker gave a wide-ranging interview with about the drug war and criminal justice reform. Booker expertly articulated just why young people take marijuana policy so seriously.

You have drug laws that are so severely, disparately enforced against some groups. Let's take African Americans, for example: there's no difference between black and white marijuana usage or sales, in fact. You go to college campuses and you'll get white drug dealers. I know this from my own experience of growing up and going to college myself. Fraternity houses are not being raided by police at the level you see with communities in inner cities.

So equal usage of this drug, equal sale of this drug, but blacks are about 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for it. African Americans are more likely to get mandatory minimums, more likely to get about 13 percent longer sentences. It's created these jagged disparities in incarceration. In my state, blacks are about 13 to 14 percent of the population, but they make up over 60 percent of the prison population.

Remember: the majority of people we arrest in America are nonviolent offenders. Now you've got this disparity in arrests, but that creates disparities that painfully fall all along this system.

For example, when you get arrested for possession with intent to sell, you can do it in some neighborhoods where there are no public schools and it's not as densely packed as an inner city. You do it in an inner city and now you're within a school zone, so you're facing even higher mandatory minimums. So when you face that and you get out from your longer term, now you're 19 years old with a felony conviction, possession with intent to sell in a school zone.

Booker went on, telling's German Lopez:

What's more dangerous to society: someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of their own home, or someone going 30 miles over the speed limit, racing down a road in a community? And yet that teenager who makes a mistake — doing something the last three presidents admitted to doing — now he has a felony conviction, because it's more likely he's going to get caught. And for the rest of his life, when he's 29, 39, 49, 59, he's still paying for a mistake he made as a teenager.

That's not the kind of society I believe in, nor is it fiscally responsible. It's undermining productivity. It's undermining people's ability to take care of their families. It's locking in generational problems in poverty, or even limiting opportunities.

When Lopez asked Booker if he supported marijuana legalization the Senator Booker gave this response "I'm one of those people who think our marijuana laws are way off the rails."

The full interview is well worth reading. Booker has become one of the strongest voices in national politics advocating for these changes.

In Philadelphia, a Philly420 study of local marijuana arrests showed a disturbing racial disparity but also that enforcement targets young people. A vast majority of those arrested for pot are age 18-35.

If President Obama wishes to know why marijuana reform is so critical to the public he might take a look at arrest statistics, or have a chat with Sen. Booker.

Chris Goldstein is associate editor of Freedom Leaf magazine and co-chair of PhillyNorml. Contact him at