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Presidential Candidate Gillibrand Unveils Wide-Ranging Marijuana Legalization Plan

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) unveiled a comprehensive marijuana reform plan on Wednesday that involves legalizing the drug nationwide, expunging non-violent convictions and requiring that private and federal health insurers to cover medical cannabis.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate also said she would immediately deschedule marijuana, allow cannabis businesses to access financial services and impose an excise tax on legal sales that would fund programs designed to help communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.

In a Medium post, the senator walked through the details of her proposal, emphasizing the importance of social equity and creating a regulatory system that protects patients, boosts the economy and normalizes the industry. She said ending federal marijuana prohibition “will be a top priority of my presidency.”

“As president, I will immediately deschedule marijuana as a controlled substance, and start working to not only heal the damage done by racist drug laws, but tap into the medical and economic opportunity that legal marijuana offers,” Gillibrand wrote.

One of the more novel elements of her proposal concerns health coverage for medical cannabis. Gillibrand has repeatedly stated that marijuana can serve as an alternative to addictive opioid painkillers, and she said mandating coverage for all private insurers as well as the federal programs Medicare and Medicaid will help suffering patients.

Another prominent feature of the plan centers on social equity for communities ravaged by the war on drugs. Besides providing for the expungement of non-violent marijuana convictions, Gillibrand is also proposing using tax revenue from cannabis sales to fund programs such as job training and education for disadvantaged communities.

She also wants to give small businesses—particularly those owned by women and minorities—access to capital and “technical assistance” so that they can more easily participate in the legal industry.

Gillibrand’s plan earned early praise from Wanda James, the first black woman to own a dispensary in Colorado who penned an editorial in Blavity on Wednesday.

James said that the senator’s plan “goes far and beyond any proposal I’ve seen from a presidential candidate” and that her “agenda was built with economic equity in mind.”

“[L]et’s get really real: Kirsten Gillibrand is a white woman who hasn’t experienced the same type of discrimination as my brother or me,” James wrote. “But she’s doing everything she can to understand and to try to make up for the generations of injustice — and she’s a fighter who’s brave enough to lead on the issues where others won’t.”

Gillibrand made a similar point in her Medium post.

“Nothing proposed today can ever undo the devastating harm done to generations of communities and families of color by the War on Drugs,” she wrote. “But it’s long past time to start making this right. With this plan, we can begin to dismantle the institutional racism in our criminal justice system, open up important new medical and economic horizons, and lift up communities who need and deserve a fair shot at opportunity.”

Gillibrand said that the country should end prohibition for some of the same reasons that it ended alcohol prohibition:

“Fundamentally, whether adults use marijuana is a matter of privacy, and we should treat marijuana as a major economic opportunity and revenue source.”

Via Team Gillibrand.

She further argued that while state-level legalization efforts have had “positive benefits,” establishing a federal regulatory framework is necessary because “a state-by-state patchwork is not enough to tackle the deeply rooted racial, social, and economic injustices within our marijuana laws, or to fully unleash the economic equity and opportunity of marijuana legalization.”

It’s not clear whether Gillibrand plans to introduce legislation containing any of these proposals during the current Congress or if she’s just outlining her cannabis agenda if elected president. The plan’s reveal comes weeks after the senator met with advocates and discussed how marijuana reform fits within her campaign.

What is clear is that the wide-ranging proposal is yet another sign that Democratic presidential candidates are taking the issue of marijuana reform seriously. For many voters, it’s no longer enough for politicians to simply voice support for reform; candidates are now essentially competing to produce the most forward-thinking cannabis plans to stand out in an overwhelmingly pro-legalization crowd.

“It’s 2019. It’s time to legalize marijuana nationwide,” Gillibrand wrote. “As president, I’ll get it done.”

Presidential Candidate Touts Marijuana Legalization Measure He Opposed To Raise Money On Instagram

Photo element courtesy of Gillibrand 2010

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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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