Bernie Sanders wants to legalize cannabis if he is elected president. And he isn’t going to wait on Congress to do it.
The presidential hopeful said this week that he would use an executive order to end the federal prohibition on pot, reiterating his long-standing opposition to the ban.
“When I ran for president for the Democratic nomination in 2016, I talked about a broken criminal justice system, which ends up having in the United States more people in jail than any other country,” Sanders said during an interview on the popular podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience.” “And what I call for then, and I call for now, is the legalization of marijuana in America.”
While state and municipal governments across the United States have taken it upon themselves to legalize marijuana for recreational use—along with the more than 30 states that permit it for medicinal purposes—cannabis remains illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, which places pot in the same category as far more powerful drugs like cocaine and heroin.
Sanders told Rogan that such a distinction is “insane.”
“Heroin is a killer drug,” the Vermont senator said. “You can argue the pluses and minuses of marijuana, but marijuana ain’t heroin. So we have to end that and that’s what I will do as President of the United States. I believe we can do that through executive order and I will do that.”
Ending the prohibition on marijuana has gone from a fringe to mainstream position in American politics over the last decade. Polling shows that growing numbers of voters support legalization, while several of Sanders’ rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, such as Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, also share the view. Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden, however, has stopped short of that, saying he is in favor of decriminalization but not outright legalization.
Sanders has been ahead of his fellow candidates on this issue. In 2015, he introduced a bill in Congress to end the federal ban on marijuana. The legislation, which had no cosponsors, ultimately fizzled in the senate.
Sanders told Rogan that, under his plan, individuals who have been busted for marijuana would have it expunged from their records, something he noted is already being done in some American cities.
“So if you were arrested, have a criminal record for selling marijuana, that is being expunged,” he said. “And that is the right thing to do.”
But despite his support for the policy change, Sanders himself isn’t feeling the burn. The senator told Rogan that he “smoked marijuana a couple of times” and it “didn’t do much for me.”
“It made me cough a whole lot, alright, but I gather other people have had different experiences,” Sanders said with a laugh.