Throughout his long political career, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has fought relentlessly for cannabis policy reform. As expected, Sanders reiterated his support for full marijuana legalization in his presidential candidate announcement video, arguing that the federal government “needs to end the destructive War on Drugs.”
Sanders, who has said he’s smoked marijuana decades ago but that the plant “didn’t do a whole lot” for him, has backed a number of cannabis reform bills in Congress, both during his time in the House and throughout his Senate tenure. Most recently, he signed on as co-sponsor of Sen. Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act to permit states to legalize cannabis as they see fit, while punishing those states with discriminatory enforcement practices. Prior to that, he supported the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that would decriminalize marijuana under federal law.
Fighting for cannabis legalization before nearly every other lawmaker, Sanders introduced the first-ever Senate bill to end federal cannabis prohibition, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015. No other senators backed his bill at the time. Twenty years prior, Sanders backed a House bill to legalize and regulate marijuana under federal law. He also made the legalization of cannabis a central issue in his campaign for president in 2016, and was the first major presidential candidate to ever endorse marijuana legalization. During his 16 years in the U.S. House, Sanders has voted in favor of amendments that protected legal medical marijuana states from federal intervention several times.
Sanders is an outspoken supporter of marijuana reform and regularly discusses the issue on social media, in speeches, and during debates. He’s regularly argued that marijuana should not be classified as a Schedule I substance like heroin and more dangerous substances, that prohibition disproportionately impacts black Americans, and that non-violent cannabis convictions should not upend lives. When the Justice Department under Donald Trump started to dismantle guidelines on federal marijuana enforcement priorities, Sanders publicly criticized the moves.