It has been said that if the issue of nationwide marijuana legalization was put up to a vote in the United States, the people — stoners, soccer moms, entrepreneurs, and even circus freaks — would come out in droves to make damn sure that it passed. After all, some of the most recent polls on the subject show that somewhere around 65% of the American population believes that pot should be part of a taxed and regulated system, the same as alcohol and tobacco. Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is fully aware that cannabis is a hot issue in the 2020 election, so he is letting the people know that his administration plans to legalize the leaf in all 50 states as soon as he gets the keys to the White House.
“On my first day in office, through executive order, we will legalize marijuana in every state in this country,” Sanders told a ravenous crowd of his most loyal supporters at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa ahead of the caucus. “We will move forward to expunge the records of those arrested for possession of marijuana.
“We will make certain that the legalized marijuana industry is not controlled by a handful of corporations,” he continued, “but that those people — the African-American community, the Latino community, the Native American community — those people who have suffered the most will get help in order to make money through a legalized marijuana industry.”
Of course, the Iowa crowd went buck wild over the news that marijuana was as good as legal everywhere across the country if Sanders wins the presidency. What’s more is that presumably, millions of people marred by criminal records as a result of being caught with a little weed would have those offenses wiped clean, allowing them to, once again, join the ranks of upstanding citizens. And, and, and… the very communities ravaged by decades of racist drug war tactics, well, those folks will be the first in line for an opportunity to seize prosperity in the new American way that is growing and selling weed. In the immortal words of comedian Larry David, a man who closely resembles Sanders, all of this sounds pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.
The only problem with Sanders’s masterplan, however, is he really doesn’t have the ability to wave a magic wand that will legalize marijuana at the federal level. So are his promises just a load of B.S.?
Well, kind of.
Although the President does have the power to initiate the process to get cannabis rescheduled within the Controlled Substances Act — but not without the help of the attorney general and the health secretary — he or she doesn’t appear to have much clout when it comes to outright legalization. It’s definitely not a move that Sanders could get done through an Executive Order on his first day in office. Furthermore, he’s probably not going to sign anything that achieves all the things he wants to do — legalize weed in all 50 states, expunge criminal records, and keep the cannabis industry from being swallowed up by a few corporations — in even the first 100 days. That is unless his team knows of some super sneaky method for doing it without Congressional support. But the CSA is designed to prevent the Executive Branch from going rogue and legalizing drugs. Therefore, Congressional approval is needed to end prohibition nationwide.
It should also be pointed out that even if a lone Sanders could get marijuana eliminated from the CSA and effectively legalize marijuana nationwide, neither he nor any arm of the federal government could force prohibition states to lift their ban on marijuana. Just like with the repeal of alcohol prohibition through the passing of the 21st Amendment (Congressional action, not some magic wand waving madness at the hands of President Roosevelt), some states maintained the booze ban regardless of the change in federal law. In fact, it took more than 30 years for all of the states in the union to get on board with the legalization of alcohol. Mississippi was the last to end prohibition, and that didn’t happen until 1966. While we hate to say it, the same resistance could easily occur across the country with respect to weed. So, no, Sanders cannot legalize marijuana in all 50 states. Another civil war would break out before that ever happened.
There are also international drug treaties and a slew of other details that must be considered that makes federal marijuana legalization more convoluted than just a swipe of the President’s pen. Still, having a Democratic president in the White House pushing for legal weed would be good to have as part of the nation’s political arsenal, especially if Congress happens to find Democratic control in 2021. Marijuana legalization is one of those issues that could be swiftly negotiated with all parties — House, Senate, President — in complete agreement. It’s the kind of perfect storm that many hope will touch down here in the Land of the Free when voters hit the polls in November.
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