Next year could be a watershed year for marijuana legalization. Efforts are underway to include ballot initiatives fully legalizing adult recreational uses of cannabis in at least 6 states, and a majority of candidates seeking the Democratic Party nomination for President back proposals that would pave the way for decriminalizing or outright legalization of marijuana under federal law.
Joe Biden, currently the front runner for his party’s Presidential nomination, has said he supports decriminalizing marijuana, but has yet to come out in favor of federal legalization. But other leading candidates are less cautious.
Marijuana legalization is a key part of Senator Bernie Sanders’ criminal justice reform platform. The Vermont Democrat has long be a proponent of marijuana legalization, co-sponsoring numerous legalization bills both as a Congressman and as a Senator. According to the Senator’s website, as President Sanders will push 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.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has been vocal in her support for marijuana legalization, expressing support for cannabis legislation at town halls and on social media. During a CNN town hall earlier this year, Warren, a Democratic frontrunner noted that African Americans are more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses even though white Americans are just as likely to use marijuana. “[I]f we talk about criminal justice reform, we need to start with the things we make illegal. One of the best places we could start with is the legalization of marijuana,” she said.
As a candidate for President, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) has supports legalizing marijuana, seeing it as a key to criminal justice reform. “Kamala will take action to legalize marijuana, further reform federal sentencing laws, end private prisons and the profiting off of people in prison, and push states to prioritize the treatment and rehabilitation for drug offenses,” according to the candidate’s web site.
Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, IN, has put forth a broad criminal justice reform plan as part of his Presidential run. The plan calls for legalizing marijuana and expunging past convictions for marijuana possession.
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) has long advocated for reform of marijuana laws. His Presidential campaign website states that he plans to “decriminalize marijuana, expunge records, and restore justice to individuals and communities that have been devastated by the War on Drugs.”
Senator Amy Kobuchar said in a statement earlier this year that she supports legalizing marijuana. In that statement, provided to the the Washington Post and CNN, the Senator from Minnesota said “I support the legalization of marijuana and believe the states should have the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders.”
Beto O’Rourke has long advocated for legalization of marijuana, and on his Presidential campaign website the former Texas Congressman states that if elected he would end federal prohibitions around marijuana and expunge the criminal records of those incarcerated for possessing marijuana.
Andrew Yang has said he supports legalizing marijuana as part of a broader criminal justice reform effort. On his website he states that legalizing marijuana “would improve safety, social equity, and generate tens of billions of dollars in new revenue based on legal cannabis businesses.”
Julian Castro’s statements on the campaign trail seem to echo the positions expressed by many of this opponents for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination. “We need to ensure that we build on [sentencing reform legislation] and reform our criminal justice system,” he told a National Action Network’s annual convention, in April. “That we must do things like legalize marijuana.”