Cannabis legalization is backed by most of the Democratic Party’s candidates vying for the party’s nomination, with the notable exception of former Vice President Joe Biden. While a pro-cannabis stance is becoming commonplace for democrats, it was not always the case, even as recently as the last presidential election.
Bernie Sanders’ bold 2016 campaign helped drive progressive issues, including cannabis legalization, into the mainstream political discourse. Now Sanders, back for another run at the White House, is continuing to push for cannabis legalization. The U.S. Senator from Vermont is not simply seeking to allow use of the drug, but also to institute significant criminal justice reforms.
“When I ran for president for the Democratic nomination in 2016, I talked about a broken criminal justice system, which ends up having in the United States more people in jail than any other country,” Sanders said on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. “And what I called for then, and I call for now, is the legalization of marijuana in America.”
This time, Sanders has announced a plan that would avoid the legislative abyss of Congress and directly use the powers granted by the presidency. He is seeking to immediately remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, which categorizes cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic, viewed by federal officials as carrying the same risks as heroin and LSD.
“You can argue the plusses and minuses of marijuana, but marijuana ain’t heroin,” Sanders said. “So we have to end that and that’s what I will do as President of the United States. I believe we can do that through executive order and I will do that.”
Sanders may not be leading in the polls as the Democrat’s nominee to challenge President Trump, but he may already be seeing some of the fruits of his labors since his 2016 campaign.
“What seemed kind of radical, the need to legalize and decriminalize marijuana… is spreading all over the country,” Sanders told Rogan. “And by the way, it blows my mind… Here in California, you see signs from corporations: ‘Buy our marijuana.’ Four years ago, people were getting arrested for doing that, right? Their lives being destroyed.”
In order for Sanders to secure the nomination from the Democratic Party, Sanders may need to lean on his long record of supporting criminal justice and cannabis reform. Though he trails front runner Joe Biden, the former Vice President has long been a supporter of the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, positions that could create some vulnerability for his candidacy as the Democratic primaries continue.