NEWARK, NJ - U.S Sen. Cory Booker has promised to initiate clemency for more than 17,000 nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison on day one of his presidency, should he be elected.

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Booker, a former mayor and councilman of Newark, today outlined his Restoring Justice Initiative. It would begin clemency proceedings for people serving federal sentences for marijuana-related offenses, reduce sentences for certain drug offenses and retroactively eliminate disparities between crack and powder cocaine sentences.

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“Granting clemency won’t repair all the damage that has been done by the War on Drugs and our broken criminal justice system, but it will help our country confront this injustice and begin to heal,” Booker said in a statement.

State Democratic lawmakers are still grappling with how -- and when -- to expunge records of those with marijuana offenses. Expungement was put on pause once the state Legislature canceled a vote to legalize recreational marijuana.

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The hold on expungement has angered local leaders in Newark, like state Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex) and clergy members. They don't understand why expungement - a major social justice element of legalization - should be put on hold even though recreational marijuana still remains a crime. 

Rice, a staunch opponent of legalizing marijuana, has instead pushed for decriminalization of the drug. He vowed to not vote on the state budget until people are no longer criminally charged for possessing small amounts of marijuana. That puts him at odds with Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Gov. Phil Murphy, who campaigned heavily on marijuana reform as a social justice issue.

The American Civil Liberties Union found that Blacks were four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession between 2001 and 2010, despite roughly equal usage rates. 

Booker, a Democrat, is for marijuana legalization. Earlier this year, he re-introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, which would legalize the drug nationwide.

Should Booker be elected president, the federal court system would immediately identify individuals who meet his initiative's parameters for clemency. People would be able to self-identify and submit their names for consideration too.

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