At exactly 4:20 p.m. on October 24, Bernie Sanders revealed his plan to legalize marijuana nationwide. Sanders, a frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, has long been a champion of ending the federal prohibition on cannabis. It’s a position that is currently so popular, especially among Democratic voters, that Sanders’ stance has pulled nearly every serious contender for the Democratic nomination toward a pro-legalization stance—with the notable exception of Joe Biden.
But Sanders’ comprehensive legalization plan goes further than even the most ambitious proposals of his 2020 rivals. Unlike other candidates, who have either recently “evolved” on the issue of legal cannabis or put forward tepid or partial legalization/decriminalization proposals, Sanders would take swift executive action to end the federal ban on marijuana and follow it up with legislation to undo and reverse the devastating effects of the War on Drugs with billions in grants and other subsidies for those criminalized for cannabis.
Bernie Sanders’ Plan to Legalize Marijuana is the Best Yet
Elect Bernie Sanders as President of the United States, and he’ll legalize marijuana nationwide within his first 100 days in office. But that’s just the beginning of Sanders’ wide-ranging plan to create a just and equitable legal cannabis industry across the country.
Step 1, according to Sanders’ just-released plan, would be to issue an executive order within 100 days of assuming the presidency. That order would order the U.S. attorney general to remove cannabis containing THC from the federal list of controlled substances. The move would be similar to the recent removal of hemp—defined as cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC—from the Controlled Substances Act.
Step 2 would be pushing Congress to pass a bill that would “ensure the permanent legalization of marijuana.” Once passed, however, states would still need to pass their own legal marijuana laws. But with increasing public support, even among Republicans, for legalization, and federal prohibition no longer serving as an excuse for not legalizing cannabis, states would likely have a much easier time passing their own legal weed bills.
Several 2020 Democratic presidential nominee hopefuls have centered criminal justice reforms as part of their legalization proposals, from Julian Castro to Beto O’Rourke. But Sanders’ plan goes further and does more for communities most impacted by the criminalization of cannabis.
Sanders’ Legalization Plan Would Do More for Impacted Communities than Candidates’
The War on Drugs, and especially the harsh criminalization of even minor cannabis offenses, has not only fueled mass incarceration, it has also robbed people of economic and social opportunities to go to school, start businesses, access public housing, receive federal aid and grants and even vote. Sanders’ legalization plan would directly address that, and not just for minority and disenfranchised communities that want to get into the weed business. Here’s a breakdown of everything Sanders’ marijuana plan would do for impacted groups.
- Push state and federal law enforcement and criminal justice authorities to expunge and vacate past convictions for marijuana. This includes establishing an independent clemency board to help free people locked up in federal prisons for marijuana convictions.
- Eliminate barriers to public housing, social security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits for those who have interacted with the criminal justice system.
- Use new tax revenue from legal cannabis to create a $20 billion grant program for entrepreneurs of color who continue to face discrimination in access to capital along with an additional $10 billion grant program for businesses that are at least 51 percent owned or controlled by those in disproportionately impacted areas or individuals who have been arrested or convicted of marijuana offenses.
- Create a $10 billion development fund to provide grants to communities hardest hit by the War on Drugs.
And that’s not just for impacted individuals who want to start cannabis companies. Grants would help impacted individuals start whatever businesses they want. But Sanders plan doesn’t leave those who want to enter the legal industry on the sidelines. His plan would also create another $10 billion grant to help impacted individuals start urban and rural farms and urban and rural marijuana growing operations.
Sanders’ Legalization Plan Would Prevent Big Tobacco Takeover
Supporting diversity and equity in the legal marijuana industry is part and parcel of Sanders’ plan to put checks on a corporate takeover of marijuana. Sanders doesn’t want to see the legal industry become another adjunct of the Big Tobacco and pharmaceutical companies, and this is where his plan even further distinguishes itself from his 2020 rivals’.
As president, Sanders would create financial incentives for marijuana businesses to operate as non-profit organizations. Even more radically, Sanders said his plan would actually bar tobacco companies, as well as other manufacturers of cancer-causing products and companies that engage in deceptive marketing, from the legal industry. Additionally, Sanders’ plan calls for setting market share caps, to prevent large companies from monopolizing the cannabis market.
All together, Sanders’ marijuana legalization plan goes further on criminal and social justice, economic equity and public safety. Amid a crowded Democratic field with nearly all of the top candidates, and even many of those polling under 5 percent, supporting marijuana legalization, the devil is in the details. And Sanders plan, down to its finest points, does more and goes further, making it the most progressive and comprehensive federal cannabis legalization plan to date.