Senator Cory Booker, in an attempt to illustrate how some candidates were not campaigning with true attention to the black community, turned his criticism on Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. for saying he did not support legalizing marijuana. During the Democratic primary debate in Atlanta on Wednesday, he joked that Mr. Biden “might have been high” when he said that.
Below are transcripts of parts of the exchange:
BOOKER: I want to turn back to this issue of black voters. I have a lifetime of experience with black voters. I’ve been one since I was 18. Nobody on this stage should need a focus group to hear from African-American voters. Black voters are pissed off, and they’re worried. They’re pissed off because the only time our issues seem to be paid attention to by politicians is when people are looking for a vote. We don’t want to see people miss this opportunity and lose because we are nominating someone that isn’t trusted, doesn’t have authentic connection. And so that’s what’s on the ballot. And issues do matter.
I have a lot of respect for the vice president. He has sworn me into my office and he’s a hero. This week I hear him literally say that “I don’t think we should legalize marijuana.” I thought you might have been high when you said it. And let me tell you, because marijuana — marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people. And it’s — the war on drugs has been a war on black and brown people. So let me just say this, with more African-Americans under criminal supervision in America than all the slaves since 1850, 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 that admit to smoking marijuana, while there are people — our kids are in jail right now for those drug crimes.
So these are the kind of issues that mean a lot to our community, and we don’t have somebody authentically, we’ve lost the last election. Let me give you this data example. We lost in Wisconsin, a lot of reasons, but that was a massive diminution in the African-American vote. We need to have someone that can inspire, as Kamala said, to inspire African-Americans to the polls in record numbers.
Mr. Biden responded that while he didn’t fully support legalization, he did want reforms such as decriminalization:
BIDEN: Number one, I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period, and anyone who has a record should be let out of jail, their record expunged, be completely zeroed out. But I do think it makes sense, based on data, that we should study what the long-term effects are for the use of marijuana. That’s all it is. Number one, everybody gets out, record expunged.
Mr. Booker, who has co-authored a bill to legalize marijuana, used the example to level a critique he has sometimes used in his stump speech: that the Democratic primary has occasionally focused disproportionately on the white working-class vote while taking the black vote for granted. He pointed to the black vote delta in Wisconsin as one of the critical reasons the state flipped from blue to red in 2016.
A key part of Mr. Booker’s campaign has been focusing on turning out the vote in cities like Milwaukee, Detroit and Philadelphia, even though those cities are not in key early states. After the third debate, Mr. Booker detoured from Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to hold a rally in each city.