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The Cannabis Catch-Up: Sanders Plan to Bern It All Down


Published October 25, 2019 at 4:00 p.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders - FILE: ERIC TADSEN
  • File: Eric Tadsen
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has a sense of humor, it seems.

His presidential campaign rolled out the candidate’s latest policy proposal at exactly 4:20 p.m. Thursday under the headline, “Sanders to Legalize Marijuana, Expunge Records, and Invest in Disproportionately Impacted Communities.”

Bernin’ one down, indeed.

In the proposal, Sanders promises to legalize marijuana within 100 days of taking office, “vacate and expunge all past marijuana-related convictions,” reinvest revenue from legal weed sales into communities hard hit by the war on drugs and “ensure legalized marijuana does not turn into Big Tobacco.”

That’s quite a list! In fact, Rolling Stone calls his proposal “one of the most ambitious marijuana legalization plans to date.”

Legalizing cannabis would likely be the easiest of his ideas to implement; Sanders proposes to do so via executive order. He also promises to hire cabinet-members who are aligned with his vision. And, given the rapidly changing perception of marijuana across party lines, his proposals are not far fetched. Sanders made that point himself while taking a shot at "the establishment media and politicians" who told his campaign four years ago that legalizing weed was too radical.

“Today, 11 states have legalized recreational marijuana and 33 states have legalized medical marijuana," the Sanders campaign wrote in its proposal. "Marijuana legalization is supported by a majority of the American people. We’ve come a long way in the last few years. Now we are going to complete what we started.”
The other ideas seem a bit, um, high in the sky. Sanders promises that his administration would “review all marijuana convictions — both federal and state — for expungement and re-sentencing. All past convictions will be expunged.”

That’s a ton of work, and it’s proven difficult on the state level, much less on the federal level. And it describes “all marijuana convictions.” What about trafficking of huge amounts? What about convictions that also involve violence?

The proposal refers to “eligibility,” but does not detail it. The situation is much more nuanced than simply promising to expunge all convictions.

The “preventing Big Tobacco” pitch is also more complicated than just a few ideas. Again, as we’ve seen on the state level, companies are trying to work around rules intended to limit consolidation. No reason that wouldn't continue on a federal level.

The policy of helping communities impacted by the war on drugs one of the most detailed in the proposal. It would funnel billions to entrepreneurs of color and those with cannabis-related convictions or arrests. Tax revenue from legal cannabis sales would the fund the initiatives.

“It is time to admit the criminalization of marijuana was a disaster, especially for communities of color, and allow those most impacted to move forward with their lives,” the campaign wrote. “Our job now is 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.”

Here are some other cannabis-related stories we followed this week:

October 23: “Brand management company Cannabiniers has introduced Brewbudz, a line of cannabis-infused coffee, tea, and cocoa that can be brewed in a Keurig machine.” The pods are currently available only in Nevada, but I bet you can make your own! [Allison Robicelli, The Takeout]

October 23: Heady Vermont sat down with the chief marketing officer for Northeast Hemp Commodities to talk about the business and the company’s new space in Middlebury. [Evan Johnson, Heady Vermont]

October 24: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported about 1,600 total cases of severe lung illness linked to vaping. Every state but Alaska has reported a case. The CDC is still reporting 34 deaths across 24 states linked to the illness. Vermont's tally remains at three confirmed cases and no deaths. [CDC]

October 24: A strange and tragic tale out of northern California: A sheriff’s deputy was killed Wednesday while responding to a report of men stealing from a marijuana grow operation in Somerset. But authorities later charged the man who called 911 with manslaughter because he’d had a business arrangement with the men who fired on the officer — meaning, they weren’t actually thieves. The guy was allegedly just unhappy with how the deal went down. [Sam Stanton and Molly Sullivan, Sacramento Bee]

October 24: An Arizona woman who was expelled from GateWay Community College in Phoenix for using medical marijuana has sued the school. Students in several states have filed similar suits. [Dave Collins, Associated Press]

October 25: Canadian members of that country’s AARP organization (known, of course, as CARP) can actually get 20 percent discounts on certain strains of weed produced by Canopy Growth. [Abbie Rosner, Forbes]

October 25: After announcing 200 layoffs on Thursday, Canadian cannabis producer Hexo is shuttering several facilities it operates in Ontario. “The shutdown and layoffs at Hexo arrive amid a broad downturn in the sector, as cannabis companies in Canada struggle to meet investor expectations and, in some cases, their own — as in Hexo’s case.” [Max A. Cherney, MarketWatch]

October 25: “Cannabis growers in California, Oregon and Washington state say they are enjoying a robust outdoor harvest, with strong crop yields, high-quality flower and market prices well above last year’s depressed levels.” [Bart Schaneman, Marijuana Business Daily]

October 25: In Arizona, the only state where a recreational cannabis legalization measure on the ballot in 2016 failed, two groups are making a push for competing proposals on the 2020 ballot. One is funded by mega-cannabis companies such as Curaleaf and MedMen. Meanwhile, the state legislature might try to pass a legalization bill of its own. [Yeji Lee, CannabisWire]

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