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Bernie Sanders’s Marijuana Plan Is More Than Legalization, It’s A Matter Of Justice (Op-Ed)

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Bernie’s marijuana plan goes beyond legalizing marijuana to address the shortcomings of our historically racist criminal justice system.

By Tick Segerblom

When it comes to smart marijuana policy, Nevadans are ahead of the curve—voting to legalize medical marijuana in 1998 and 2000 and recreational marijuana in 2016. What has followed is an industry that has generated thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue for the state. Marijuana sales produced nearly $70 million in tax revenue in the first year of legal sales alone, providing new funding sources for educational and social programs. There is no doubt that legalizing marijuana has been a smart economic move for our state.

However, legalizing marijuana isn’t only about generating more revenue for our communities, it’s also about correcting a system that unjustly targets disadvantaged communities, particularly communities of color. The War on Drugs has accelerated the effects of institutional racism that have long pervaded our criminal justice system, and it’s past time we start to address and undo that damage.

Once considered radical, the legalization of marijuana is now wildly popular with the American public. In 2015, Bernie Sanders became the first major presidential candidate to support the federal legalization of marijuana. In October, Senator Sanders unveiled his marijuana reform plan, putting forward the most comprehensive proposal to legalize marijuana, expunge past convictions and ensure those impacted the most are not overlooked by the growing marijuana industry.

Despite marijuana use being roughly equal across racial and ethnic groups nationally, African Americans are four times more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for possessing marijuana than white Americans. Criminalization has had disastrous consequences, particularly for communities of color, and Bernie will take federal action to right those wrongs. Bernie’s plan will expunge all past convictions and remove barriers to accessing public benefits and services for those who were previously convicted.

But it’s not enough to simply right the wrongs in our legal system. Nevada’s booming marijuana industry has created many lucrative business opportunities, and historically disadvantaged communities deserve to see their share of the economic rewards. Nevada has had some success creating new marijuana business opportunities for our tribal communities, but out of Nevada’s 58 dispensaries open in 2018, only one was Black-owned.

Overall, communities ravaged by marijuana criminalization have not enjoyed equal access to the economic opportunities that Nevada voters created. Bernie’s marijuana policy recognizes this injustice by investing $50 billion in revenue from marijuana back into the communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs. This will create new opportunities for Black, Latino, AAPI, and Native American entrepreneurs and will generate new jobs and new wealth for those communities.

I’ve worked throughout my career to legalize marijuana and reform our criminal justice system, and I am proudly supporting Bernie Sanders for president because he shares that commitment to social and economic justice. Bernie’s marijuana plan goes beyond legalizing marijuana to address the shortcomings of our historically racist criminal justice system. Bernie has set the gold standard for federal marijuana policy, and Nevadans should remember that when they participate in the Democratic presidential caucuses this February.

Tick Segerblom is a County Commissioner for Clark County, Nevada and a Nevada Campaign Co-Chair for Bernie 2020.

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