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Back in August 2018, presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders candidly announced bold plans to legalize marijuana by executive order if elected. In an interview with popular podcaster and comedian Joe Rogan, Sanders continued his vociferous opposition to our current criminal justice practices and the War on Drugs.

Legalize Marijuana By Executive Order

During the Joe Rogan interview, Sanders talked about our “broken criminal justice system” that jails people at unprecedented levels. He believes marijuana legalization could alleviate the heavy cost and social damage caused by these outdated and unjust laws. He also mentioned his support for legalization so that products could be regulated and safe for consumption.

While discussing the possibility of removing cannabis from its Schedule I designation, Sanders said, “You can argue the pluses and minuses of marijuana, but marijuana ain’t heroin. 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.”

On his website, Sanders states he would legalize cannabis within his first 100 days in office with executive action. He intends to nominate an attorney general, HHS secretary, and DEA administrator to end the War on Drugs. The Attorney General can then proceed to declassify the plant. Sanders believes the swift action could also reduce barriers for companies to receive banking services.

Strong Scorecard

Sanders has been one of the most consistent supporters for marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform compared to other 2020 presidential candidates. In 2016, he was the first presidential candidate to endorse federal cannabis legalization. In 2015, he filed the first Senate bill to end marijuana prohibition. The historic bill obtained no co-sponsors.

Sanders has also attached his name to numerous marijuana reform bills during his tenure at the Senate and House. He supported the Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. He also endorsed the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, which would remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances.

Criminal Justice Reform

On his plans to reverse the wrongdoings of the criminal justice system, Sanders told Rogan, “I think ultimately we have got to legalize marijuana, and what’s good news is some communities, some cities, are expunging the records. So if you were arrested [and] have a criminal record for selling marijuana, that is being expunged. And that is the right thing to do.”

Part of his plan to legalize marijuana is to vacate and expunge all past cannabis-related convictions. Following the California model, the Sanders administration would direct federal and state authorities to review past convictions for eligibility. Prosecutors would have one year to appeal the expungement after which the conviction would be automatically removed.

In order to make expungement easier for anyone to do, Sanders plans to fund states and cities to partner with technology organizations to automate the expungement determination process. In San Francisco, regulators teamed up with Code for America to develop a computer algorithm to sort through thousands of convictions to determine eligibility.

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Social Equity Reform

Besides expunging past marijuana convictions, Sanders intends to reinvest marijuana tax revenue into “communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs, especially African-American and other communities of color.” He also plans to award grant money and resources to individuals in heavily impacted communities. Here are a few ways he plans to reinvest into communities:

  • Create a $20 billion program to provide grants to cannabis entrepreneurs of color who have had a hard time financing their business.
  • Create a $10 billion grant program to help cannabis businesses that are at least 51 percent owned or controlled by individuals with a past marijuana conviction or those in disproportionately affected areas.
  • Provide training and resources to former convicts related to marijuana businesses.
  • Create a $10 billion USDA grant program to help people in impacted areas or those with convictions start urban and rural cannabis farms and growing operations.

Candidate Showdown

While marijuana legalization isn’t the most pressing issue of the election, almost all Democratic candidates support some form of decriminalization or federal legalization. Joe Biden stands apart from the pack by being the only candidate supporting cannabis decriminalization. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has been another strong proponent for the legalization of marijuana on the campaign trail.

Despite the strong support for legalization from most of the Democratic party, Bernie Sanders stands out with his ambitious and comprehensive plan. Among the main elements of his plan, Sanders hopes to ensure that “legalized marijuana does not turn into Big Tobacco.” Not only would he ban tobacco/cigarette companies from participating in the cannabis industry, but he would incentivize nonprofit company structures and institute market share and franchise caps.

2020 candidates are smart to start the conversation about the legalization of marijuana and stopping the detrimental consequences of the drug war. Millions have needlessly had to undergo racial and criminal injustices due to marijuana prohibition. Sanders is leading the pack of candidates with his fearlessly progressive and well-laid-out ideas for 2020.

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