Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont unveiled a plan to legalize cannabis and expunge convictions for marijuana offenses on Thursday, releasing a blueprint of his plan at exactly 4:20 in the afternoon.
Sanders said in a statement about the plan that it is time for the nation to take a new approach to drug policy.
“We’re going to legalize marijuana and end the horrifically destructive war on drugs,” said Sanders. “It has disproportionately targeted people of color and ruined the lives of millions of Americans.”
Severe drug laws with mandatory sentencing requirements have “disproportionately targeted people of color and ruined the lives of millions of Americans,” Sanders said. “When we’re in the White House, we’re going to end the greed and corruption of the big corporations and make sure that Americans hit hardest by the war on drugs will be the first to benefit from legalization.”
A federal clemency board, similar to one established in California, would be created to address past marijuana convictions. The new body would instruct federal and local authorities to conduct of review of applicable cases and decide if a new sentence or vacated conviction is warranted. Prosecutors would be allowed up to one year to appeal decisions, after which time the conviction would be immediately expunged or vacated.
Under Sanders’ plan, tobacco companies would be banned from entering the cannabis industry. Marketing and products aimed at children would be prohibited.
Social Equity Provisions Built Into Plan
Tax revenues generated by legal cannabis sales would be used to fund a $20 billion grant program for entrepreneurs of color and a $10 billion program “to focus on businesses that are at least 51% owned or controlled by those in disproportionately impacted areas or individuals who have been arrested for or convicted of marijuana offenses.”
The plan also includes a $10 billion USDA grant program to “help disproportionately impacted areas and individuals who have been arrested for or convicted of marijuana offenses start urban and rural farms and urban and rural marijuana growing operations,” and a $10 billion development fund to “provide grants to communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs.”
Sanders has long advocated for the legalization of cannabis. At a campaign event in Iowa in September, he said that he wanted federal marijuana legalization to include provisions to support small businesses and prevent large corporations from dominating the industry.
“I go to Nevada, and there are these big billboards, I don’t know if you’ve seen, and it says buy this or that brand of marijuana, have you seen this? They are advertising hemp,” Sanders said. “And I’m thinking that there are people in jail for doing exactly what these large corporations are doing, selling marijuana.”
All of the major contenders for the Democratic nomination for president have endorsed at least some form of cannabis reform, although to varying degrees. Both Sanders and Warren have said that they would legalize marijuana by executive action. The Marijuana Justice Act has been endorsed by its sponsor, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, as well as Sanders, Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, and Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas has said that he would legalize marijuana and use taxes to fund expunging convictions. Vice President Joe Biden has adopted a decidedly less progressive stance, saying he believes that cannabis should be moved to Schedule 2 of the nation’s list of controlled substances, with possession of marijuana being classified as a misdemeanor.