Marijuana Moment is a wire service assembled by Tom Angell, a marijuana legalization activist and journalist covering marijuana reform nationwide. The views expressed by Angell or Marijuana Moment are neither endorsed by the Globe nor do they reflect the Globe’s views on any subject area.
US Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is pledging to use executive action to deschedule marijuana within the first 100 days of his administration if he is elected.
In a cannabis reform plan released on Thursday at 4:20 p.m. EST, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act would be the first step, but that he’d simultaneously press Congress to make legalization a permanent policy through legislation.
The senator said he will nominate an attorney general, Drug Enforcement Administration administrator, and Health and Human Services secretary “who will all work to aggressively end the drug war and legalize marijuana.” Once the attorney general is confirmed, Sanders will issue the executive order to deschedule cannabis, he said.
Sanders, who became the first major presidential candidate to endorse legalization during his last campaign and filed the Senate’s first-ever cannabis descheduling bill in 2015, is expanding on his vision for what a legal cannabis model should look like.
“It is time to admit the criminalization of marijuana was a disaster, especially for communities of color, and allow those most impacted to move forward with their lives,” the plan states. “Our job now is to legalize marijuana and vacate and expunge past marijuana convictions, and ensure that revenue from legal marijuana is reinvested in communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs.”
There are several unique proposals included in the new plan. To mitigate the influence of large corporate marijuana firms, the senator wants to enact market and franchise caps. Tobacco companies would also be prohibited from participating in the legal industry.
“Big Tobacco is already targeting the marijuana industry for its profits,” the plan reads. “As president, Bernie will not allow marijuana to turn into Big Tobacco.”
Additionally, Sanders said the government would provide resources “for people to start cooperatives and collective nonprofits as marijuana businesses that will create jobs and economic growth in local communities.”
People who’ve been incarcerated for cannabis offenses or who are from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war would be prioritized to benefit from legalization under the senator’s plan. That includes reinvesting cannabis tax revenue into such communities, setting aside $20 billion in grants to provide access to capital to marginalized individuals and stimulating business in areas hit hardest under prohibition.
The plan also calls for the creation of a $10 billion grant program under the US Department of Agriculture to help marginalized individuals start rural and urban cannabis farms “to ensure people impacted by the war on drugs have access to the entire marijuana industry.”
“These grants will be used for design, technical assistance, purchasing equipment, installing infrastructure and more,” the plan says.
Sanders also wants to establish a national system to certify organic marijuana “to give consumers the information they need to make an informed decision” and to ensure “marijuana farmers are paid a fair price for their products with tools like supply management and reserves and transition toward a parity system to guarantee marijuana farmers a living wage.”
The USDA would also be involved in establishing “safety inspection and quality control processes for growers and producers.”
Another provision concerns expungements, and it is modeled after California’s cannabis program. Sanders will order federal and state law authorities to review data on marijuana convictions and then clear the records for those cases. Individuals would be able to reach out to their state governments to ensure their case is being reviewed, and if after two years there’s no action, the plan would provide an “administrative remedy.”
It’s not clear what powers the senator would have to direct state action with respect to the cannabis conviction review proposal, but it’s possible it would involve withholding certain federal funds to penalize states that don’t comply. Sanders also wants to proactively provide funding for states and cities “to partner with organizations that can help develop and operate the expungement determination process, much like how California worked with Code for America.”
The senator said he would also “revitalize” the clemency process by creating an independent White House clemency board that would presumably help streamline the identification of eligible federal marijuana cases.
Further, Sanders said he would eliminate drug testing requirements for individuals applying for or receiving public benefits, and he’d ensure that people don’t lose federal housing assistance over cannabis. Under the plan, immigrants would not be denied entry to the use or face deportation because of marijuana.