Bernie is Running Again. Here's Where He Stands on Cannabis

On Tuesday, 77-year-old Vermont senator and self-described "democratic socialist" Bernie Sanders officially announced his candidacy in the 2020 presidential election. This announcement comes as no surprise, given the popularity of Sanders' previous bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2016. 

Those who followed Bernie throughout his previous campaign know that the Vermont senator is extremely progressive on the issue of cannabis. In 2015, Bernie introduced the first-ever bill to reschedule cannabis in the Senate. The bill went nowhere, but it did establish the senator's position as a pro-cannabis politician. 

Speaking personally, Bernie Sanders has said that he is not a cannabis consumer himself. Much like other prominent Democrats, Sanders claims only to have smoked cannabis a couple of times.

"I've done marijuana twice in my life when I was very young," he said. "And what it did for me was it made me cough a lot - that was my response. But I gather other people have had different experiences."

But unlike other prominent Democrats, the senator refused to shy away from the cannabis issue, even after he became a serious contender in the 2016 election. 

The 2016 Campaign

The reclassification of cannabis was a recurring topic throughout Sanders' well-publicized 2016 presidential campaign.

During that time, the presidential hopeful had an extended talk with rapper Killer Mike about the 'War on Drugs,' in which he outlined his plan to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.

He also listed the legalization of marijuana as part of his six-point plan for ending institutionalized racism, and confirmed that, if given the option, he would vote “yes” on state cannabis legalization bills like the ones that repealed prohibition in California, Maine and Massachusetts in 2016.

After losing the primaries to Democratic front-runner Hilary Clinton, Sanders endorsed his former opponent, despite her lack of resolve on the cannabis issue. However, in his endorsement, he cited Clinton’s openness towards reforming to criminal justice system and finding alternative health solutions amid the opioid crisis as reasons to support her candidacy.

The Trump Era and Beyond

More recently, in 2018, Sanders launched a petition to pressure Congress to legalize marijuana. He also released a statement opposing former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind key Obama-era cannabis policies, in which Sanders reiterated his belief that legalization ought to be a decision left to the individual state.

He also challenged people to rethink the logic of cannabis prohibition in his 2018 book 'Where We Go From Here: Two Years in The Resistance,' where he wrote, “How many young people’s lives got off to a bad start because of a police record related to marijuana?”

“The prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s was a failed policy. The prohibition of marijuana has also failed,” he added.

While appearing at a rally in California to support Democratic Representative Barbara Lee in October 2018, Sanders said that he was "proud" of both California and his own state of Vermont for legalizing marijuana.

"God only knows how many hundreds of thousands of lives have been ruined by people who receive police records for the possession of marijuana," he said. "We're making progress by legalizing possession of marijuana and in other parts decriminalizing it."

Judging by these recent assertions, we can likely expect much of the same from the Vermont senator throughout his 2020 run.

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Local officials and law enforcers often have fears that allowing legal cannabis shops to operate within their jurisdictions will have detrimental effects. Some people fear that allowing pot shops in their neighborhood will increase violent crime rates, allow young people easier access to the drug and lower the property value of surrounding homes. But is any of that true?

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