Grading the Democratic Presidential Candidates on Marijuana: Bernie Sanders
Every Saturday, at least for a while, we plan to run a series of blog posts that take a close look at each of the Democratic Party candidates for President in 2020. We are examining each candidate’s historic approach to marijuana law and policy, and also canvas each politician’s current stances on marijuana.
Last week, we covered Joe Biden. Today, we turn to Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont who almost wrestled the nomination away from Hilary Clinton in 2016.
Overall Grade: A
Stance on marijuana: The legalization of marijuana is a major part of Bernie Sanders’ criminal justice reform platform. As stated on his campaign website, Sanders hopes to end the War on Drugs and legalize marijuana and he will do whatever he can to accomplish those things if elected. Sanders has frequently voiced his pro-legalization stance in interviews and on social media.
History with marijuana legislation: Over the course of his career, the Vermont senator has maintained a pro-legalization stance. As a House representative in the 1990s, when it was uncommon to do so, Sanders co-sponsored and signed a multitude of bills to legalize marijuana, to reschedule the drug, and to protect states that legalized cannabis for medicinal use. As a senator, Sanders has continued to sponsor pro-legalization bills, the most recent being the Marijuana Justice Act of 2019, which focuses on legalization as a method of criminal justice reform, and the Secure And Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019, which would protect banks that serve cannabis businesses.
Though Sanders’ rhetoric and record surrounding marijuana are mostly consistent, early in his political career, Sanders did vote for a few bills which conflicted with his platform of criminal justice reform. Sanders voted for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which put into law the “Three Strikes” statute. And in 1997, he voted for a bill which if passed would have mandated minimum sentences for crimes involving firearms, regardless of whether the weapon was legal or not. Had this bill passed, a person arrested for pot while carrying a legally owned gun would receive a mandatory minimum sentence.
Conclusion: Sanders receives an “A” grade based on his nearly flawless support for cannabis for the last 20 years. His record of pro-legalization legislation is remarkable and cannabis legalization is a central part of his platform as a presidential candidate. Though Sanders supported a couple bills early in his career that were inconsistent with his criminal justice platform, his two decades of pro-legalization legislation and rhetoric demonstrate his dedication to cannabis legalization and convince us that a Sanders presidency will be great for cannabis.