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Minority Marijuana Business Group Defends Bernie Sanders’s Comments On Legalization And Race

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The country’s first diversity-focused marijuana trade association came to Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) aid on Thursday, issuing a statement “to affirm our support and appreciation” for the 2020 presidential candidate’s recent comments on minority involvement in the legal cannabis industry.

During a Democratic primary debate on Tuesday, Sanders pledged not only to end federal marijuana prohibition and expunge past criminal records if elected, but also to help people of color find an economic foothold in the industry.

“We are going to provide help to the African American, Latino and Native American communities to start businesses selling legal marijuana rather than let a few corporations control the legalized marijuana market,” he said.

It’s an argument familiar to most legalization advocates, and several recent state marijuana laws have included provisions aimed at ensuring social equity in the industry for communities that have been targeted by the war on drugs. But the proposal didn’t sit well with everyone. Some wondered aloud whether Sanders was himself being racist by suggesting that people of color should sell drugs.

“Girl, I couldn’t believe my ears when Sanders said he was going to set up black people and natives to sell DRUGS!!” wrote one Twitter user, a self-described Christian mom from Alabama. “I’m still in shock. Dems are still the same ole racist. They look down on black Americans as if they are ignorant and incompetent children.”

Bernie Sanders “is a flat out racist” said another Twitter user, a supporter of Donald Trump. “Basically said minorities only capable of having businesses which sell drugs.”

But now, the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) is working to set the record straight. In a press release, the group said it “stands in support” of Sanders’s comments, which it argued touch on core parts of its mission to “promote economic empowerment for communities of color by creating policy considerations, social programming, and outreach initiatives to achieve equity for the communities most affected by the war on drugs.”

“Taking the public position of ensuring communities most impacted by the war on drugs will have the ability to enter the legal cannabis industry shows that he is serious about reversing the damage done by the war on our communities,” said Kaliko Castille, MCBA’s vice president.

In a phone interview with Marijuana Moment, MCBA President Jason Ortiz said he was “inspired” by Sanders’s comments, though he understands how they could have been misinterpreted.

“I think Bernie Sanders is addressing the issue of economic justice, and I think it is a complicated issue, so some folks have been misinformed,” Ortiz said. Sanders, he explained, is trying to ensure that the economic opportunities created by marijuana legalization are shared equitably.

So far in most legal states, he said, that hasn’t been happening.

“We see large, wealthy, white corporations already have access to those economic opportunities in our communities,” Ortiz said. “What Sen. Sanders is proposing is that communities of color share in those economic opportunities. And there’s nothing racist about economic justice.”

Ortiz chalked up the criticism to decades of misinformation about cannabis from government and the media.

“One of the most insidious parts of the war on drugs was its ability to confuse communities of color around the cannabis plant,” he said. “There’s been a sustained, systematic campaign to misinform our communities and deny us economic opportunities for decades.”

“Communities of color do want access to opportunities in the cannabis industry,” Ortiz added. “We demand access to opportunities. And we welcome any candidates that are willing to stand with our call for economic justice for our communities.”

Aside from Sanders, MCBA said that “Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is the only other Democratic candidate for president to release a plan regarding federal cannabis policy with restorative and economic justice.”

MCBA has not endorsed a candidate for president, but Sanders and Warren have by far the most comprehensive cannabis legalization proposals. Sanders’s plan would immediately deschedule cannabis nationwide and work to block big corporations from controlling the market. (He’s faced pushback from legal experts who argue that a president cannot legally use executive action to legalize marijuana in all 50 states on his first day in office, however.)

Warren’s recently released marijuana proposal, meanwhile, puts racial equity center stage. “It’s about undoing a century of racist policy that disproportionately targeted Black and Latinx communities,” the plan says. “It’s about rebuilding the communities that have suffered the most harm. And it’s about ensuring that everyone has access to the opportunities that the new cannabis market provides.”

While some criticisms of Sanders’s debate statements appeared to be sincere, others seemed politically opportunistic. Conservative pundits pounced on Sanders, apparently in an effort to stir up racial tensions. Fox News host Tucker Carlson—who described the legalization plan as “Fire up a bowl. Numb out”—said Sanders “is encouraging more black kids to sell drugs.”

“Where is this weed going to come from? Bernie has a plan for that, too. Black people are going to sell it to you,” Carlson said. “So first, they fill black neighborhoods with abortion clinics. Now the frontrunner is encouraging more black kids to sell drugs, but somehow this is the party that loves black America.”

Ortiz responded that “Tucker Carlson and his ilk have been perpetuating the racist stereotypes that led to the over incarceration crisis we face today” and his “flippant disregard for the violent history of the war on drugs is a testament to just how much work we still have to do on an issue with near universal support.”

Elizabeth Warren Cites Marijuana Advocacy In Response To Tribal Members’ Critical Letter

Photo courtesy of Phil Roeder

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.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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Biden Taps Marijuana Legalization Supporter To Lead Democratic National Committee

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President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is a strong backer of marijuana legalization—the latest example of a nominee holding cannabis policy reform views that go further than the incoming president’s.

If confirmed by party leaders on Thursday, as is expected, former South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison will be responsible for coordinating Democrats’ national political activities. To that end, a push from the chair to emphasize marijuana reform, which is overwhelmingly supported by Democratic voters, could be broadly influential.

Harrison made a 2020 run for a Senate seat held by outgoing Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) but didn’t prevail. During his campaign, he stressed the need to legalize marijuana as a means to promote racial justice.

“I think we should legalize, regulate and tax marijuana like we do alcohol and tobacco,” he said in July. “There is simply no medical reason to lock people up over this issue. In essence, this is about common sense.”

“We know that marijuana arrests, including those for simple possession, account for a large number of drug arrests,” he said. “The racial disparities in marijuana enforcement—black men and white men smoke marijuana the same rates, but black men are much more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession—is just unacceptable.”

“Across the country, we are finding that states are legalizing marijuana and medical marijuana, and it’s just time for South Carolina to lead on this issue,” Harrison added.

He also criticized then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he rescinded an Obama-era Justice Department policy that provided guidance to prosecutors on federal cannabis enforcement.

“I believe we need to regulate marijuana just like we do tobacco. I think we need to tax it and make sure that it’s safe. I just think if you look at the science right now—the criminalization—it’s been more harmful to us as a society than not,” Harrison said in another interview. “I think we will do much better to just simply regulate and tax it just like we do alcohol and tobacco. So I’ve been very plain and outspoken on that. I think we have to decriminalize it at this point in time.”

But the likely DNC chair’s support for broad cannabis reform is at odds with Biden’s position.

Despite supermajority support for the policy change among Democrats, the president-elect has maintained an opposition to legalization. Instead, he backs decriminalizing possession, legalizing medical cannabis, modest rescheduling, expunging past records and allowing states to set their own policies free of federal intervention.

If formally elected, Harrison would be replacing Tom Perez, whose views on marijuana policy are less clear. That said, the current DNC chair did reveal a cannabis blindspot in 2019 when he attempted to joke about President Trump getting high from smoking hemp (which is non-intoxicating) and suggested that it makes people dumb.

Before Perez, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) served as DNC chair. She had long opposed cannabis reform but seems to have evolved, voting in favor of a spending bill amendment for the first time last year that called for protecting all state marijuana programs from federal intervention.

The DNC hasn’t historically warmed to marijuana reform at the pace of the party’s voters. And as recently as last year, the organization’s platform committee rejected an amendment that would have made legalization an official 2020 party plank.

Instead, the committee adopted a position calling for decriminalization, rescheduling, medical cannabis legalization, expungements and allowing state-level reform—much like Biden.

For her part, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who was recently reelected for another term, said last year when asked about medical marijuana that the issue is “left up to the states and there’s going to be variances between states.”

“But that’s not something that the RNC puts forward as policy,” she said. “That’s a legislative issue.”

Meanwhile, Biden’s choice of Harrison to lead the Democrats’ political operation represents yet another pick whose position on legalization breaks with his own.

The president-elect announced earlier this month that he wants Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) to run the Commerce Department. The governor came out in support of legalization in 2019, and she released a budget proposal last year that called for a state-run regulatory model for cannabis.

Biden also recently selected a nominee lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D)—who is amenable to reform. And in his role, he could help facilitate federal cannabis rescheduling.

For attorney general, Biden is nominating Judge Merrick Garland, who has not been especially outspoken about his views on marijuana policy. While advocates expressed concern about his commentary in a 2012 federal appeals case on marijuana scheduling, he doesn’t appear to have been publicly hostile to a policy change.

In positive news for advocates, the president-elect is also set to nominate former prosecutor and civil rights activist Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general. She favors cannabis legalization and has strongly condemned harsh criminalization policies for non-violent drug offenses.

U.S. Census Bureau Wants To Collect Marijuana Tax Revenue Data From States

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Local Massachusetts Lawmakers Unanimously Approve Psychedelics Decriminalization Measure

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Local Massachusetts lawmakers on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics—the latest in a national movement to reform laws on entheogenic plants and fungi.

Prior passing the measure in a 9-0 vote, the Somerville City Council took testimony from two people with personal experience benefiting from the therapeutic use of psychedelics. Several members of the council also discussed the failures of the drug war and the potential medical value of entheogenic substances, particularly as it concerns mental health.

The resolution was supported by the mayor.

“By decriminalizing psychedelic plants, Massachusetts can mainstream harm-reduction strategies as therapists and health providers embrace these compounds for physical, psychological, and spiritual relief,” Decriminalize Nature, Bay Staters for Natural Medicines and the Heroic Hearts Project said in written testimony to lawmakers.

“Somerville has a chance to empower our neighbors, friends, and loved ones to seek the physical and spiritual relief they need and put public health above incarcerating people even in cases of addiction and abuse of controlled substances,” they wrote.

Under the proposal, enforcement of laws against psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca would be among the city’s lowest priorities. It also calls on the county prosecutor to cease pursing cases for persons charged with possessing or distributing entheogens.

The measure states that “the City Council hereby maintains it should be the policy of the City of Somerville that the investigation and arrest of adult persons for planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with, and/or possessing entheogenic plants… shall be amongst the lowest law enforcement priority for the City of Somerville.”

It also stipulates that “no City of Somerville department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Somerville Police Department personnel, should use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of entheogenic plants by adults.”

The resolution emphasizes that the measure would not allow for commercial sales of these substances, nor would it permit driving while under the influence of them.

“I love living in a city where this is not controversial and you got unanimous support,” Council President Matt McLaughlin said at the close of the meeting. “Let’s end this war on drugs, and this is a good step.”

Watch the lawmakers discuss the psychedelics reform resolution, starting around 25:45 into the video below: 

With Thursday’s vote, Somerville joins a growing number of cities across the U.S. that have enacted psychedelics decriminalization. Most of the reforms have advanced legislatively, though Washington, D.C. became the first jurisdiction to decriminalize via the ballot in November.

Three other cities—OaklandSanta Cruz and Ann Arbor—have also decriminalized possession of plant-and fungi-based psychedelics.

In Oregon, November’s election saw the passage of a historic initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes. The governor announced in November that applications for an advisory board to oversee implementation of the program were being accepted up until January 1.

Much of this reform progress can be traced back to Denver, which became the first city in the country to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in May 2019. Since then, activists in more than 100 cities have expressed interest in pursuing psychedelics decriminalization.

In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution last month that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics.

A California state senator plans to file a bill to decriminalize psychedelics for the 2021 session.

Meanwhile, after Ann Arbor legislators passed a decriminalization resolution in September, a county prosecutor recently announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi—“regardless of the amount at issue.”

Virginia Senate Holds First Marijuana Legalization Hearing, With More Scheduled Next Week

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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.
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North Dakota Lawmakers File Bill To Significantly Expand Marijuana Decriminalization Law

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North Dakota lawmakers have introduced a bill to significantly expand marijuana decriminalization in the state.

The legislation, which was filed on Monday, would build on an initial cannabis decriminalization law that was enacted in 2019.

Under the current statute, possession of half an ounce or less of marijuana is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, with no jail time. The new proposal would make possession of up to an ounce a non-criminal offense that carries a $50 fine.

Further, possession of more than one ounce and less than 250 grams would be treated as an infraction, rather than a class B misdemeanor, as it is currently classified.

Possessing more than 250 grams of marijuana would be a class B misdemeanor and possessing more than 500 grams would be a class A misdemeanor.

The bill is being sponsored by Rep. Shannon Roers Jones (R) and Sen. Scott Meyer (R) in their respective chambers. It’s been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 250 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

“It’s encouraging to see Rep. Roers Jones and her colleagues continue the push to reduce harsh and senseless penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana in North Dakota,” Jared Moffat, state campaigns manager at the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “Decriminalization is no substitute for legalizing and regulating marijuana for adults, as several of North Dakota’s neighbors have now done. But passage of this bill would continue the trend of progress the state has seen in recent years.”

Activists are moving forward with plans to put a cannabis legalization ballot initiative before voters in 2022.

The measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and cultivate cannabis for personal use, was submitted to Secretary of State Al Jaeger on Monday. If its language is accepted, the campaign will be able to start signature gathering to qualify for the ballot.

The same team behind the new initiative came close to putting a similar measure on the state’s ballot last year, but petitioning efforts were impeded by the coronavirus pandemic.

A separate group of advocates, Legalize ND, also attempted to qualify a different legalization initiative in 2020 that would have allowed retail sales but excluded a home grow option. That organization is also considering plans for its own 2022 measure.

Previously, a 2018 legalization push that did qualify for the ballot was defeated. Voters in the state did approve a measure to legalize medical cannabis in 2016, though the law was scaled down by the legislature the following year.

While activists are skeptical that the legislature has the appetite to enact the policy change on their own, it is the case that lawmakers may feel increased pressure given that voters in neighboring South Dakota and Montana elected to legalize cannabis in November.

Read the new North Dakota marijuana decriminalization bill below: 

North Dakota Decriminalizat… by Marijuana Moment

New Mexico Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Is A 2021 Priority

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