With the presidential election looming (November 3, 2020), candidates fighting to set themselves apart from their running mates. Classic issues such as taxes and housing are now joined by topics like student debt forgiveness and cannabis legalization. This past week’s Democratic Presidential debate made it clear that Democrats need to narrow down their choice of candidates from 12 to a more manageable number. And one candidate pulled ahead of the pack with an ambitious cannabis legalization plan.
Ever popular Bernie Sanders released a well-timed cannabis legalization plan at 4:20 p.m. on October 24. Sander’s plan is the flashiest, most direct plan towards legalizing cannabis federally and removing it from the DEA’s Schedule 1 substance list. This plan would all unfold within the first 100 through executive action. His plan includes expunging all past marijuana-related convictions. Records of people currently incarcerated on cannabis-related charges will be reviewed with the intent of re-sentencing. This would counteract the mandatory minimums that were put into place for possessing or growing marijuana.
According to his campaign website, the plan federal government would follow California’s lead by partnering with organizations to develop and operate the expungement determination process. California partnered with Code for America, which uses technology for social change, in the project Clear My Record. Clear My Record is a free, online tool that helps people who have criminal convictions connect with public defenders or legal aid attorneys who can help get their records re-addressed in court.
Much like Kamala Harris’ cannabis legalization plan, Sander’s plan will use funds made from taxing the sale of legal weed to fund minority business initiatives. According to the Sanders campaign website, a $10 billion grant program will specifically focus on businesses owned by people “in disproportionately impacted areas” or those who have been arrested for or convicted of marijuana offenses. The goal of this grant program is to help diversify economic development in communities that were hardest hit by the “War on Drugs.”
But, perhaps the most interesting part of Sander’s plan is how it will manage all the newly legalized cannabis companies. Sanders wants to ensure that cannabis companies don’t “turn into Big Tobacco,” i.e., influential, profit-driven corporations. His plan is to “incentivize marijuana businesses to be structured like nonprofits,” which could help prevent them from focusing solely on profits. Tobacco companies would also be prohibited from setting their sights on cannabis. But, it might already be too late to prevent tobacco companies from acquiring cannabis enterprises, not to mention the pharmaceutical giants that are already funding cannabis R&D. He would ban products and advertisements targeted at minors – to avoid another Juul from hooking preteens on smoking – and allow the USDA and the federal government to regulate cannabis products.
This idealistic plan is already garnering support and media attention. It’s the most cannabis-friendly plan to date. Sander’s slogan “Feel the Bern” has a whole new meaning to cannabis smokers and other Democratic candidates may soon follow suit by releasing cannabis legalization plans of their own.