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Here’s what’s in Elizabeth Warren’s marijuana legalization plan

Published on February 24, 2020 · Last updated July 28, 2020
elizabeth warren on marijuana legalization
Democratic presidential candidates, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, left, listens as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., absolutely destroys him onstage during the Nevada primary debate Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/John Locher)

After destroying the Democratic presidential candidate with the absolute worst record on marijuana—that would be Mike Bloomberg—on the debate stage last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren this week released a detailed plan to end prohibition and legalize cannabis at the federal level.

Her plan doesn’t include any eye-popping new ideas, but it does show that she and her staff are paying attention to the latest nuances involved in the issue. When it comes to legalization, the details matter.

Warren has the full plan up on her website here, but we’ll give you the TL;DR guide below.

The Warren legalization plan would:

  • Legalize via Congress. Warren would work with the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act), the legislation favored by most progressive legalization advocates, and introduced by Warren’s former primary rival, Sen. Kamala Harris.
  • Use executive authority. If Congress refuses to act, Warren would use executive authority to break down the existing walls of prohibition. That includes:
    • Appointing agency heads at the DEA, FDA, and ONDCP who support legalization.
    • Within 100 days, direct those agencies to de-list marijuana via the federal rule-making process.
    • Reinstate the Cole Memo, the Obama administration’s guidance on state cannabis laws that adopts a hands-off federal policy.
    • Encourage agency heads to develop grant programs and rules to support a racial justice approach to legalization.

Expunge convictions, protect immigrants

Beyond making the plant and its products legal, Warren’s plan addresses many of the residual harms done by decades of prohibition. Those moves include:

  • Expunging marijuana convictions by:
    • Prioritizing a federal expungement process.
    • Creating incentives for states to do the same.
  • Protecting immigrants from unfair treatment due to cannabis use or employment. Currently, any non-citizen employed in the legal cannabis industry can be denied citizenship due to that fact alone. “No one should be deported or barred from citizenship for having used marijuana,” Warren writes.
Here’s where the 2020 presidential candidates stand on cannabis

Fund research and let DC smoke

The plan would also tackle a number of ancillary issues connected to legalization, including:

  • Fighting for veterans’ right to access marijuana.
  • Funding cannabis research. “Trump has blocked any new universities from obtaining approval” to grow cannabis for research purposes,” Warren’s plan states. “As president, I will eliminate” that barrier and increase federal funding for marijuana research.
  • Fighting to lift the Congressional blockade of Washington, DC. Since 2014, cannabis has been legal for adults in the District, but Republicans in Congress have used a spending bill to block the ability of local officials to enact commonsense regulations. Result: The illicit market thrives, while leaving law-abiding residents no opportunity to purchase licensed, legal, lab-tested products. “My administration will fight to lift that ban,” says Warren.
  • Supporting Native American tribal sovereignty and allow them to set their own cannabis policies.
  • Supporting the sovereignty of other nations that wish to legalize.

You can read about the past and present cannabis policies of all the 2020 presidential contenders here.

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
View Bruce Barcott's articles
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