Biden and Sanders Spar Over Cannabis Legalization

Cannabis legalization remains a major issue in the crowded Democratic presidential field, with candidates honing their policy positions to stand out from the pack. 

At a rally in South Carolina, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, asked the crowd to raise their hands if they had been arrested for cannabis possession. Many did so and subsequently told their stories.

“Holy God, whoa. That’s a lot of people,” Sanders said about the number of hands.

Many told distressing stories about being arrested for small amounts of cannabis and the severe negative consequences that followed.

Sanders endorsed cannabis legalization in his run to be the Democratic nominee for the Presidency in 2015. 

“This isn’t a recent conversion for Sanders either as he called for drug policy reform for much of his career and made marijuana legalization a cornerstone of his criminal justice reform platform in both his 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns,” said Erik Altieri, Executive Director of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Sanders has released a thorough criminal justice reform plan to be enacted if he takes office that includes the legalization of recreational cannabis for adults as well as assistance to those in recovery from heroin addiction.

However, he is not the only candidate to come out strongly in favor of full legalization. Most of the Democratic contenders have done so in some form.

In contrast, former Vice President and frontrunner Joe Biden has a mixed background and stance on cannabis. Many criminal justice reform advocates blame him for being the chief proponent of the 1994 crime bill which, while linked to a drop in crime, also arrested many individuals for possession. Their subsequent felony records made it hard to succeed.

“Joe Biden has no legalization plan and as such is far out of touch with not just Democratic primary voters, but the American public as a whole,” said Altieri.

Biden has defended his past, citing the drop in crime as proof of the bill’s validity as justifying his strident stance. As he campaigns for President for the third time, Biden remains opposed to the full legalization of adult-use recreational cannabis. 

Rather he is in favor of decriminalization which allows possession of small amounts of cannabis but does not set up a legal market nor does it bring in the tax revenue a legal industry does. He has also called for expungements throughout his campaign. Biden seeks to make a Schedule II drug which would allow it to be prescribed legally. He was in favor of the Cole Memo which stopped the federal government from disrupting state markets and expressed a desire to end the War on Drugs while serving as Vice President.

Emerald contributor since September 2019

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