Entrepreneur Andrew Yang entered the race to become the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee way back on November 6, 2017 and suspended his campaign on February 11, 2020.
While marijuana hasn’t played a central role in Yang’s campaign, he supports legalization and has proposed several drug policy reforms since announcing his candidacy. That includes plans to decriminalize opioid possession and provide waivers for military veterans to access medical cannabis.
This piece was last updated on February 11, 2020 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race. It will continue to be updated on a rolling basis.
Legislation And Policy Actions
Yang has never before held public office, so he doesn’t have a record of policy accomplishments to review. Instead, in addition to being an entrepreneur, he’s worked in the nonprofit sector and as a philanthropist who has earned accolades for his efforts to create job opportunities for disadvantaged communities.
On The Campaign Trail
Since launching his campaign, Yang has advocated for ending marijuana prohibition, stating that “it’s already legal” in a growing number of states and that “criminalizing it does more harm than good.” He’s also pledged to “pardon those in prison for non-violent marijuana-related offenses.”
It’s time to legalize marijuana https://t.co/0Uhl17MW98 it’s already legal in 9 states and criminalizing it does more harm than good. I’d pardon those in prison for non-violent marijuana-related offenses.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) July 2, 2019
Marijuana is already legal in most states for medical use and in many for recreation. It's time to end the ambiguity and legalize it at the federal level. This would improve safety, social equity, and generate billions of dollars in new revenue based on legal cannabis businesses. pic.twitter.com/NQkhcEZd1L
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) July 22, 2019
In January 2020, the candidate proposed legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for medical purposes for military veterans. He previously said that the federal government should loosen its psychedelics laws to make substances like psilocybin “more freely available” for therapeutic use.
Yang said in a podcast interview that legalizing “certain drugs” could be one tool to combat drug cartel violence.
Another part of his campaign includes a bold proposal to decriminalize possession and use of opioids as a means of mitigating the drug crisis.
I didn't always believe that decriminalizing opioids was a good way to tackle the opioid crisis in our country. Then I dug into the data, and realized it is the single best way to facilitate recovery by prescribing treatment, not jail, to struggling users. pic.twitter.com/7LOhJzMvcN
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) July 19, 2019
“While those who brought this plague on our citizens must face serious consequences, we need to make sure that those who are afflicted by the illness of addiction are treated and not criminalized,” the site states. “The individuals behind pharmaceutical companies who promoted these drugs as non-addictive while knowing better are the ones who belong in jail, not those who fell prey to addiction.”
“It is possible that criminalizing opiates decreases access and use. But for a public health crisis of this magnitude, the criminal justice system seems to be a terrible first resort. It pushes a lot of the activity underground and makes addicts more likely to hide their addiction. Addiction is a disease—you shouldn’t criminalize people that you are trying to help. Especially when it may be partially your fault that they got addicted in the first place.”
In December 2019, the candidate said that the government should invest in safe injection facilities where people can use illicit substances in a medically supervised environment to prevent overdoses and encourage them to seek treatment.
Yang was asked at a presidential debate about how he would fund his proposal to send people who overdose on opioids to mandatory, three-day treatment. He said that pharmaceutical companies should foot the bill.
“As president, we will take back those profits [from drug companies that market opioids] and put them to work right here in New Hampshire so that if you are seeking treatment, you have resources to be able to pursue it,” he said. “This is not a money problem fundamentally, this is a human problem. But money cannot be the obstacle.”
Yang drew attention in April when he said he’d pardon all non-violent drug offenders on the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20.
“I would legalize marijuana and I would pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent, drug-related offense,” he said. “I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021 and I would high five them on their way out of jail.”
I’m for full legalization of marijuana. I would go a step further and on 4/20, 2021, exactly 2 years from today, I would pardon everyone who’s in jail for a low-level, non-violent marijuana offense and I would high five them on their way out of jail. 👍 pic.twitter.com/Q8txZNa2I1
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) April 20, 2019
.@AndrewYang at #NANconv2019: "I would legalize marijuana and then I would pardon everyone who's in jail for a nonviolent drug-related offense. I would pardon them on April 20, 2021 and I would high-five them on the way out of jail." pic.twitter.com/wqELzL9TwO
— The Hill (@thehill) April 3, 2019
But shortly after making that pronouncement, Yang walked back his proposal, saying that only those convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses would be eligible under his mass clemency plan.
He also moved the date up for his proposed pardons, stating in a fundraising email in August that he would use his executive powers on his “first day as President” to pardon “every person imprisoned for a low-level, non-violent marijuana offense.”
Marijuana convictions make up a very small percentage of the federal prison population, but that’s still ~ a few thousand high fives
Hopefully there won’t be any signing ceremonies on day two. Raw palms! pic.twitter.com/FUNSobJYa1
— Daniel Newhauser (@dnewhauser) August 23, 2019
In February 2020, Yang again talked about his pardon plan, this time with his two young sons playing on a stage during a New Hampshire campaign stop. He again seemed to shift the scope of the plan, however, saying he’d pardon everyone jailed “for a non-violent drug-related offense.”
His campaign website does state that the candidate would institute a policy of identifying non-violent drug offenders “for probation and potential early release.”
In December 2019, Yang contrasted rampant opioid prescriptions with the ongoing criminalization of marijuana.
He also tweeted that “[i]nstead of pardoning billionaires I’d pardon non-violent marijuana and opiate offenders.”
Instead of pardoning billionaires I’d pardon non-violent marijuana and opiate offenders.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) May 16, 2019
The candidate said that the “criminalization of marijuana is stupid and racist, particularly now that it’s legal in some states.”
“We should proceed with full legalization and pardon of those in jail for non-violent marijuana-related offenses,” he said.
Our criminalization of marijuana is stupid and racist, particularly now that it's legal in some states. We should proceed with full legalization and pardon of those in jail for non-violent marijuana-related offenses. pic.twitter.com/sjrYq3P6cW
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) December 3, 2018
“I’m for the legalization of marijuana, remove it from the controlled substance list in part because our administration of the criminal laws are deeply racist. It’s very obvious to everyone,” Yang said during an appearance on The Breakfast Club in March 2019. “On April 20, 2021, I’m going to pardon everyone who’s in prison for a non-violent drug offense because it makes no sense to have people in jail for stuff that’s legal in some parts of the country.”
He also made that point during an interview on the Joe Rogan Experience in February.
After former Vice President Joe Biden said that marijuana may be a gateway drug and that’s partly why he opposes legalization, Yang predicted that his opponent would “ end up evolving on this issue over time if he sees the same evidence that I have.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) attacked Biden over the remark during a presidential debate, joking that the candidate must have been high when he made it. Yang said the joke was “a good moment” for the senator but that it’s “not really my style to even make a joke like that towards Joe.”
"I thought that was a good moment for Cory. That's not really my style to even make a joke like that towards Joe. I thought Cory had a good moment," @AndrewYang on Booker's marijuana zinger on @JoeBiden during #DemDebates pic.twitter.com/BMiC8w46aR
— The Young Turks (@TheYoungTurks) November 21, 2019
The candidate shared photos of himself surrounded by dozens of trimmed marijuana plants at an unnamed facility in November.
“Marijuana should be legal nationwide,” he wrote on Twitter. “It is already legal in several states, it reflects a safer approach to pain relief than opiates, and our administration of drug laws is deeply uneven and racist.”
Marijuana should be legal nationwide. It is already legal in several states, it reflects a safer approach to pain relief than opiates, and our administration of drug laws is deeply uneven and racist. https://t.co/0Uhl17MW98
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) November 18, 2019
In October, Yang said that Canada legalized cannabis and that the U.S. “should follow suit and remove it from the federal controlled substance list and then regulate.”
Canada just legalized marijuana https://t.co/3CdpjmSDxa we should follow suit and remove it from the federal controlled substance list and then regulate.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) October 20, 2018
In an interview with The Hill in September, the candidate reiterated that “in addition to decriminalizing marijuana, I would decriminalize opiates for personal use.”
“We need to decriminalize opioids for personal use. We need to let this country know this is not a personal failing, this was a systemic government failing,” Yang said during a Democratic presidential debate in October. “Then we need to open up safe consumption and safe injection sites around the country because they save lives.”
During a CNN town hall event in April, Yang pointed to countries such as Portugal that have decriminalized personal consumption of drugs, arguing that those engaged in drug trafficking should be held accountable in the criminal justice system but that those caught possessing small amounts of illicit substances should be referred to treatment.
“We need to decriminalize opiates for personal use,” Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang says. “I’m also for the legalization of cannabis” https://t.co/bW5PJhIGsH #YangTownHall pic.twitter.com/Z6jJQbfGKD
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 15, 2019
However, he said his proposal would apply to opioids and specifically not cocaine because, he said, “the addiction has very different features.”
Yang also cited Portugal as an example of a country whose drug policy supports his proposal to decriminalize opioids in a Quora post in September.
My answer to Should we adopt a drug policy like Portugal? https://t.co/NTFJ0y5Mwn
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) September 26, 2019
“When you look around the world when they have decriminalized these drugs for personal use, so if you’re a dealer you go to jail but if you’re an addict and we catch you with the drugs, we don’t send you to jail we send you to counseling and treatment and this brings down both overdose rates and abuse rates over time,” he said in an interview with a Boston CBS affiliate.
In August, Yang started selling campaign merchandise that incorporated his passion for math and marijuana reform. For example, his site offers a $30 t-shirt that read, “Math. Money. Marijuana.”
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) August 24, 2019
The candidate also launched an online petition calling for marijuana legalization that month.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) August 27, 2019
Yang released a plan that would provide military veterans with waivers so that they can access medical cannabis, even in states where it’s not legal.
“The scientific evidence that certain controlled substances—particularly marijuana—are particularly effective at treating certain ailments common to veterans (e.g., PTSD) and for pain management,” he said.
Asked if he felt any particular substances beside marijuana hold promise in the treatment of such conditions, Yang told Marijuana Moment through a Twitter direct message that MDMA represents one example of a drug that should be considered.
In August 2018, Yang wrote that while he’s for legalization, “many users do find it addictive and we should have intelligent safeguards in place like limiting advertising and THC levels. We should learn from our past.”
I’m for legalizing marijuana. But many users do find it addictive and we should have intelligent safeguards in place like limiting advertising and THC levels. We should learn from our past. https://t.co/96EsC1Dr8V
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) August 21, 2018
During a campaign stop in Portland, Yang signed a bong.
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
It does not appear that Yang discussed marijuana publicly or on social media prior to filing his presidential campaign with the Federal Election Commission in November 2017.
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Asked whether his plan to grant mass pardons to people with nonviolent marijuana convictions on 4/20 signaled that he used cannabis himself, Yang said it simply meant that he knows people who smoke it but that he hasn’t personally indulged.
“I was a pretty geeky Asian dude and, you know, my parents did a pretty good job of keeping me steering clear of certain things,” he told HOT 97 in April 2019. “I have many friends who partake.”
“I have a lot of friends who are using marijuana for medicinal and pain relief purposes,” he said. interview. “It’s much less lethal than let’s say opiates that are killing eight Americans every hour.”
Jokingly asked whether he had a favorite blunt wrap brand, the candidate said he “cannot speak to what my preference would be.”
In a later interview, Yang admitted that he used cannabis in a “past life.”
Marijuana Under A Yang Presidency
Though Yang is best known for his economic plans—namely providing each American with a universal basic income—he’s laid out several bold drug policy reform proposals throughout his campaign. While he hasn’t endorsed any particular piece of marijuana legislation, his support for legalization, and broader plans to eliminate criminal records for those with non-violent cannabis convictions, indicate he would be an ally in the marijuana reform movement if elected president.