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Here’s What Legal Marijuana Advocates Would Ask Presidential Candidates At The Debate

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Ten Democratic presidential candidates will face off for the third debate of the year on Thursday, and for voters who care about marijuana policy, it represents another opportunity to hear exactly how each contender plans to tackle the issue if elected.

The last two rounds of debates saw some talk of drug policy—from Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) taking a jab at Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) over her prosecutorial record to former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) slamming the pharmaceutical industry. But despite the prevalent role marijuana reform has played in most campaigns, the issue hasn’t been tackled head-on on the debate stage so far.

That could change during Thursday’s debate, which will feature:

—Former Vice President Joe Biden

—Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont

—Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts

—Sen. Kamala Harris of California

—Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey

—Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota

—South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg

—Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro

—Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke

—Entrepreneur Andrew Yang

Marijuana Moment reached out to representatives of six top cannabis advocacy groups to hear what they’d ask the candidates about the issue if they were in the moderator’s chair. Here’s what they said.

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)

“While marijuana being descheduled federally would be an historic step forward, that would still leave the majority of states operating under prohibition laws, what would you do as president to encourage state lawmakers to adopt rational marijuana policies and end the over 600,000 arrests for marijuana possession annually?”

“Beyond ending federal prohibition, what, if any, actions would you take towards restorative justice for all of those who already had their lives ruined and disrupted by our failed war on marijuana?”

—Erik Altieri, NORML executive director

Americans for Safe Access (ASA)

“As you debate the best approach for healthcare (Medicare for all, public option etc), does your proposal include coverage of medical marijuana?”

“Criminal justice reform is a critical component of your campaign. Will you commit to pardon all federal prisoners convicted of non-violent cannabis offenses, and urge states to follow suit?

—David Mangone, ASA’s director of government affairs and counsel.

Cannabis Trade Federation (CTF)

“Thirty-three states have opted out of federal marijuana prohibition, legalizing cannabis for medical or adult use. As a result, there are now more than 200,000 people working in state-regulated cannabis businesses across the U.S. Due to the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws, these workers are under constant threat of federal prosecution, and a lack of access to banking services puts their safety and the safety of others at risk. What would you do as president to protect these workers and resolve the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws as soon as possible?”

—Neal Levine, CEO of CTF.

National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA)

“What will you do to help repair the harms caused by marijuana prohibition?”

“Will you commit to removing the unfair financial burdens placed on the state-legal cannabis industry, which curb its ability to disrupt the illicit market and make it harder for marginalized communities to participate in the legal market?”

—Morgan Fox, media relations director at NCIA.

Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)

I think Biden missed opportunities to fully apologize and own his place in where we are with mass criminalization and mass incarceration. I think his rollout of his marijuana and criminal justice plan falls short and is not imaginative at all. If I was a moderator, I’d ask him:

“What would you do differently as Biden in the 90s?”

It’s hard to really think of questions to get him to grapple with the extensive harm that he’s created that will follow him and his legacy.

—Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator at DPA.

Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)

“What role are you playing in the marijuana policy reform debate in your state and/or federal level, and how has your position evolved over time?”

—Don Murphy, MPP’s director of federal policies.

The debate, moderated by ABC News and Univision, will take place at 8 p.m. ET.

Follow Marijuana Moment for coverage of the event and analysis of all things drug policy that come up.

Where Presidential Candidate Mark Sanford Stands On Marijuana

This post was updated to include question suggestions from NORML.

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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