Bernie Sanders's Billion-Dollar Weed Plan: Lots of Social Equity, No Big Tobacco

Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders just released an outline for his marijuana legalization plans.
Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders just released an outline for his marijuana legalization plans. Brandon Marshall
Bernie Sanders isn't coy about his desire to see marijuana legalized, but the Democratic presidential candidate's plans for the plant will go much further than that if he's elected to the White House in 2020.

Sanders's pot platform, just released today, October 24 (at 4:20 p.m. Eastern time, no less), includes plans to federally legalize marijuana and declassify marijuana as a controlled substance via executive action within 100 days of his inauguration, as well as to ban tobacco and cigarette corporations from entering the legal pot trade.

His proposal also includes vast expungement efforts for past marijuana convictions, although it doesn't specify which levels of crimes would be eligible. It does say, however, that federal funding will support organizations that partner with cities and states for nationwide expungement, and will "revitalize the executive clemency process" by launching a clemency board in the White House that would be outside of the United States Department of Justice's control.

According to the Sanders campaign, expungement efforts will be based on California's recently enacted model, which calls for state and local prosecutors to review current and past marijuana cases for record-clearing.

"This review will include re-sentencing for all currently incarcerated with marijuana convictions. Following determination of eligibility or status, prosecutors will have one year to appeal or object, after which authorities will automatically expunge and vacate past marijuana convictions for all those eligible," the plan states.

According to the plan, marijuana industry revenue would be reinvested into "communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs, especially African-American and other communities of color," with a $20 billion grant program for the Minority Business Development Agency to provide funding for "entrepreneurs of color who continue to face discrimination in access to capital."

Sanders also calls for $10 billion in grants to help spur businesses that are at least 51 percent owned by those living in areas disproportionately impacted by the drug war, or individuals who have been arrested for marijuana offenses. Meanwhile, a Department of Agriculture grant program that would help drug war victims and former pot convicts start urban and rural marijuana growing operations, and a community development fund to help drug addiction, would also each receive $10 billion.

"We will also direct agencies to remove all references to marijuana that limit people’s ability to access government services and we will eliminate the consequences of a marijuana record related to immigration," the plan promises.

Outside of Joe Biden, the vast majority of Democratic presidential hopefuls have stated support of nationwide legalization, but Sanders's specific plans for the use of marijuana revenue adds some depth to his promises, even if the plan didn't include a timeline for fulfilling all of his pledges.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for
Contact: Thomas Mitchell