Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are making the case that the sweeping victories for marijuana legalization ballot measures on Election Day help demonstrate a desire for broad progressive reform that should be pursued under a Biden administration.
In separate op-eds published in USA Today and The Washington Post, respectively, the senators and former presidential primary rivals reflected on various election outcomes across states last week and discussed their policy visions for moving forward. Both cited the fact that cannabis legalization passed in multiple states, a result that they say lawmakers should take into consideration as they craft their agenda.
“All over America, voters approved progressive policies to improve the lives of millions of people,” Sanders wrote. “Voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota voted to move away from the ‘war on drugs’ and approved legalizing marijuana.”
The American people want a government that works for all, not just the few. That’s the right thing to do, that’s the moral thing to do and, for the Democratic Party, that is the way to win elections.https://t.co/Kr7pAvUa31
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) November 12, 2020
The senator argued that centrist Democrats who claim that the party lost House seats and underwhelmed in Senate races because of progressive members pushing for bold reforms are misunderstanding what voters want.
An early warning sign of that misunderstanding could be that several centrists who ended up losing their seats persuaded House leadership in September to delay a floor vote on a marijuana legalization bill, citing concerns about the optics of advancing cannabis reform being approving additional coronavirus relief legislation
“The lesson is not to abandon popular policies like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, living wage jobs, criminal justice reform and universal child care, but to enact an agenda that speaks to the economic desperation being felt by the working class—Black, white, Latino, Asian American and Native American,” Sanders said. “People are hurting, and they are crying out for help. We must respond.”
Warren also made the case that the election proved progressivism is a driving force within the Democratic party. She said President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris won because they championed “the most progressive economic and racial justice platform of any general election nominee ever,” but “it wasn’t just the top of the ticket.”
Biden-Harris ran on the most progressive economic and racial justice platform of any general election nominee ever. Now isn’t the time to hand over the keys to corporate lobbyists. Read my op-ed on why Dems need to take bold steps for the American people. https://t.co/RpkwVXyriD
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) November 12, 2020
“Progressive ballot initiatives won across the country,” she said. “Multiple states—red and blue—passed ballot measures to legalize marijuana.”
“The lesson is clear. Bold policies to improve opportunity for all Americans are broadly popular,” she added. “Voters recognize that these reforms are necessary to fix what is broken in our nation.”
Both Sanders and Warren—as well as Harris, for that matter—ran on full marijuana legalization platforms during their 2020 presidential primary campaigns.
What remains to be seen is how the Biden-Harris administration will approach cannabis reform when it enters office. Both candidates on the ticket repeatedly pledged to pursue decriminalization and expungements for prior marijuana convictions during the campaign, and pro-legalization lawmakers have expressed optimism that they will follow through.
But to that end, there has already been a missed opportunity to showcase their commitment to reform. A transition team webpage on Biden’s racial equity plan describes multiple criminal justice reform policies the soon-to-be president will prioritize, but it notably omits mention of cannabis decriminalization despite the fact that he has previously linked the proposal to racial justice.
A campaign spokesperson told Marijuana Moment, however, that “nothing has changed,” and decriminalization remains an administrative priority.
In any case, Democratic legislators have made clear that they intend to push for even more wide-ranging legislation to federally legalize marijuana regardless of the former vice president’s ongoing opposition to the broad policy change.
The House, for example, is set to vote on the previously postponed bill to deschedule cannabis next month. While it’s unlikely to get a vote in the currently GOP-controlled Senate, the legislative action could add pressure on the president-elect to evolve further on the issue—or at least make good on his pledge to prioritize more modest reform.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.