Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is pledging to use executive action to deschedule marijuana within the first 100 days of his administration if he is elected president.
In a cannabis reform plan released on Thursday at 4:20 PM EST, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act would be the first step, but that he’d simultaneously press Congress to make legalization a permanent policy through legislation.
The senator said he will nominate an attorney general, Drug Enforcement Administration administrator and Health and Human Services secretary, “who will all work to aggressively end the drug war and legalize marijuana.” Once the attorney general is confirmed, Sanders will issue the executive order to deschedule cannabis.
Sanders, who became the first major presidential candidate to endorse legalization during his last campaign and filed the Senate’s first-ever cannabis descheduling bill in 2015, is expanding on his vision for what a legal cannabis model should look like.
When we said four years ago that we needed to legalize marijuana, it was considered a "radical" idea.
Today, 11 states plus DC have legalized it. Not so radical anymore.
When we're in the White House we will do so nationwide.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) October 24, 2019
“It is time to admit the criminalization of marijuana was a disaster, especially for communities of color, and allow those most impacted to move forward with their lives,” the plan states. “Our job now is to legalize marijuana and vacate and expunge past marijuana convictions, and ensure that revenue from legal marijuana is reinvested in communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs.”
There are several unique proposals included in the new plan. To mitigate the influence of large corporate marijuana firms, the senator wants to enact market and franchise caps. Tobacco companies would be prohibited from participating in the legal industry.
“Big Tobacco is already targeting the marijuana industry for its profits,” the plan reads. “As president, Bernie will not allow marijuana to turn into Big Tobacco.”
Additionally, Sanders said the government would provide resources “for people to start cooperatives and collective nonprofits as marijuana businesses that will create jobs and economic growth in local communities.”
Today, the government considers marijuana as dangerous as heroin.
As president I will immediately issue an executive order to declassify marijuana as a controlled substance.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) October 24, 2019
People who’ve been incarcerated for cannabis offenses or who are from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war would be prioritized to benefit from legalization under the senator’s plan. That includes reinvesting cannabis tax revenue into such communities, setting aside $20 billion in grants to provide access to capital to marginalized individuals and stimulating business in areas hit hardest under prohibition.
The plan also calls for the creation of a $10 billion grant program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help marginalized individuals start rural and urban cannabis farms “to ensure people impacted by the war on drugs have access to the entire marijuana industry.”
“These grants will be used for design, technical assistance, purchasing equipment, installing infrastructure and more,” the plan says.
Sanders also wants to establish a national system to certify organic marijuana “to give consumers the information they need to make an informed decision” and to ensure “marijuana farmers are paid a fair price for their products with tools like supply management and reserves and transition toward a parity system to guarantee marijuana farmers a living wage.”
USDA would also be involved in establishing “safety inspection and quality control processes for growers and producers.”
Too many lives were ruined due to the disastrous criminalization of marijuana. Today I am releasing my plan to:
✅ Legalize marijuana with executive action
✅ Expunge past marijuana convictions
✅ Invest in communities most affected by the War on Drugs https://t.co/0xQSHn6F3U
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) October 24, 2019
Another provision concerns expungements, and it is modeled after California’s cannabis program. Sanders will order federal and state law authorities to review data on marijuana convictions and then clear the records for those cases. Individuals would be able to reach out to their state governments to ensure their case is being reviewed, and if after two years there’s no action, the plan would provide an “administrative remedy.”
It’s not clear what powers the senator would have to direct state action with respect to the cannabis conviction review proposal, but it’s possible it would involve withholding certain federal funds to penalize states that don’t comply. Sanders also wants to proactively provide funding for states and cities “to partner with organizations that can help develop and operate the expungement determination process, much like how California worked with Code for America.”
The senator said he would also “revitalize” the clemency process by creating an independent White House clemency board that would presumably help streamline the identification of eligible federal marijuana cases.
Legalize marijuana. Expunge past convictions. End the War on Drugs.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) October 24, 2019
Further, Sanders said he would eliminate drug testing requirements for individuals applying for or receiving public benefits, and he’d ensure that people don’t lose federal housing assistance over cannabis. Under the plan, immigrants would not be denied entry to the use or face deportation because of marijuana.
“The legalization of marijuana is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get federal policy right from the start,” Madisen Saglibene, executive director of Nevada NORML, said in a press release. “The plan released today by Senator Sanders would end prohibition and address the harms that have been inflicted on generations of Americans under its racially disproportional enforcement.”
“His plan would provide real economic prosperity in the emerging legal marketplaces for those who have had to carry the burden of incarceration or a criminal record due a substance that is now legally generating millions in Nevada each year,” she said.
This latest proposal builds on a criminal justice reform plan Sanders released in August. That plan also called for legalization, expungements and reinvesting in communities most hurt by the drug war. And it included the establishment of safe consumption facilities where individuals could use illicit drugs under medical supervision in order to prevent overdoses and encourage people to seek treatment.
But while Sanders is a longstanding champion of marijuana reform and advocate for harm reduction programs, he’s declined to back broader decriminalization of drug possession, a stance being taken by a growing number of his rivals for the Democratic nomination. During an interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast in August, the senator pushed back against arguments in favor of legalizing and regulating drugs beside marijuana.
Sanders also first floated the idea of exercising executive action to legalize cannabis during the Rogan appearance.
He congratulated Canada last week on the first anniversary since the country implemented a legal cannabis market, stating that “Vermont shares a border with Canada, and as far as I can tell, the sky has not fallen and the cities have not plunged into anarchy on the other side.”
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) also released a drug policy reform plan on Thursday, proposing to decriminalize possession of all drugs and establish safe injection sites and needle exchange programs in his plan. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) are also in favor of the decriminalization policy, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang wants to remove criminal penalties for use and possession of opioids.
Photo courtesy of Phil Roeder.
New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.
“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.
“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation
A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.
“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.
“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) April 3, 2020
“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”
Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.
“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”
“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.
Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.
“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”
🟢🟢 LEGALIZING COMMERCIAL MARIJUANA IN D.C. 🟢🟢
I spoke to D.C.'s Delegate @EleanorNorton
She's pushing for fully legal commercial marijuana sales in the District in a 4th Congressional stimulus package.
The District needs the money.
And people are smoking weed anyway. pic.twitter.com/PL9yoDKlrj
— Adam Longo (@adamlongoTV) April 3, 2020
Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.
For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.
Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus
North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.
“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”
Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.
“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”
The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.
The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.
Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.