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This 2020 Presidential Hopeful Actually Has a Legalization Plan

June 5, 2019
'White privilege' doesn't diminish a white person's pain from job loss or the opioid crisis, Gillibrand said. But it does exist, and cannabis arrests illustrate how it plays out. (AP)
This story has been updated.

Amid a crowded field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, nearly all of whom have said they support ending federal cannabis prohibition, few have laid out a plan to actually do it. But as candidates seek to set themselves apart, some are making legalization a campaign priority—and giving a glimpse of what a post-prohibition America might look like.

“It’s past time to make this happen at the federal level.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

The latest candidate to put out a concrete proposal is US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who on Wednesday published a post on Medium calling today’s enforcement of cannabis laws “a continuation of the institutional racism that has defined our criminal justice system for decades.”

“Legalization is a criminal justice issue, a health care issue, and an economic issue,” she wrote. “It’s past time to make this happen at the federal level.”

If elected, Gillibrand said, she would “immediately deschedule marijuana as a controlled substance.” She would then begin building a national framework to boost cannabis research, tax and regulate commercial sales, and harness economic opportunities to benefit communities “disproportionately harmed by marijuana laws.”

It’s a plan that recognizes the multifaceted role that many legalization advocates now see cannabis playing: adult-use drug, revolutionary medicine, economic engine, and tool for social justice.


The Latest Cannabis Bill in Congress Would Do More Than Just Legalize

The short post—a breezy five-minute read—doesn’t dive deep into details, instead laying out a balcony-level plan for what Gillibrand says she’d work to achieve:

  • Establish a national process to make marijuana production and consumption clean, safe, and sustainable
  • Expunge all non-violent marijuana convictions
  • Invest in research for medicinal applications, and require coverage for medical marijuana in all health insurance plans, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA
  • Legalize and tax recreational marijuana nationwide, and direct revenue towards programs that help repair the damage done by the War on Drugs
  • Normalize cannabis businesses’ tax treatment and allow access to the banking system
  • Create equity for small business investment in the cannabis industry, lifting up communities that have been most hurt by marijuana laws

Many of the points echo a plan laid out in congressional legislation, the Marijuana Justice Act, introduced in February by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), himself a 2020 candidate, and cosponsored by Gillibrand and three other presidential hopefuls: Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Kamala Harris (D-CA).


Joe Biden’s Drug War Record Is So Much Worse Than You Think

Though other candidates have said they support legalization, plans by Booker, Sanders—who in 2015 introduced the first-ever Senate bill to legalize cannabis—and Gillibrand are so far the most extensive indications by candidates of what they’d like federal legalization to look like. All three also have winning ratings from NORML, which ranks candidates based on their history of supporting cannabis reform. Gillibrand currently has an A rating, just behind the A+ ratings of Booker and Sanders.

“Nothing proposed today can ever undo the devastating harm done to generations of communities and families of color by the War on Drugs,” Gillibrand, who announced her candidacy in March, wrote in Wednesday’s post. “But it’s long past time to start making this right.”

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Ben Adlin

Ben Adlin is a senior editor at Leafly who specializes in politics and the law. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin

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  • ExpertM16A2

    Hell yeah, Kirsten Gillibrand is my new candidate choice.

  • Daryle Hunter , Jr

    Promises , promises. Let’s see any of them shake a stick at the DEA. You will have to when they’re the biggest part of the problem. 2020 is going to be a “put up or shut up” year for laws, bills, and politics. Set your watch and watch.

  • Richard Dinsmore

    Kristen made her money defending Big Tobacco…is she for real or just an opportunist?

    • Etidorhpa

      If something is bad why support it? Have a neutral ground at least. Say it’s bad but let people choose.

  • JR

    good luck convincing an agency like the DEA with a 64 BILLION dollar budget to give up 75% of their budget.
    You telling me DEA agents are going to go from flash bangs and busting in doors to being the weed DMV??

  • YearofAction

    Let’s contact Senator Gillibrand about including in her plan this reconstructed definition of marijuana that carefully deschedules cannabis. It creates a simple framework for the tasks she intends to achieve:

    The term “marijuana” means all parts of the smoke produced by the combustion of the plant Cannabis sativa L. which is, as are the viable seeds of such plant, prohibited to be grown by or sold by any publicly traded corporation or subsidiary company, and such smoke is prohibited to be inhaled by any child or by any person bearing any firearm, as is the intake of any part or any product of such plant containing more than 0.3% THC by weight unless prescribed to such child by an authorized medical practitioner.

  • Highway 69

    Americans: Study all candidates!
    While I admit I don’t know much about Gillibrand, I do know that we must carefully choose our next President and not let just one issue (legalization) be the reason for voting for her — or anybody!

    We are going to have to pick somebody who can fix everything that got screwed up by this administration, and make America respected again. Somebody with brains and who will put our country first over personal agendas… and if they happen to be on our side of making cannabis legal, even better!

    • Etidorhpa

      This administration did everything right for this country. God bless Trump .

      • BA5578

        Amen brother!! She is an opportunist, just like the rest of the Dem “hopefuls”. Always trying to play the “social justice” card, thinking this will garner a few more votes. Barack Hussein had 8 long years to use his “pen & his phone” to do absolutely NOTHING for cannabis legalization, other than draft a memo directing DAs to ignore Federal law.
        Trump 2020 indeed !!

  • Etidorhpa

    They don’t care about you. Anyone who says alter your mind does not care for you. Don’t be idiots.