It’s still very early in the campaign to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, but Sen. Bernie Sanders just raised the stakes higher in one policy area by vowing to legalize cannabis through executive order if he becomes president.
In an interview with YouTube talk show host Joe Rogan, Sanders vowed to make marijuana legal at the federal level. And he said he won’t wait for the U.S. Congress to agree that legalization is a good idea. He thinks he can legalize cannabis through executive order.
Marijuana is currently listed as an illegal Schedule I drug by the federal government along with heroin and cocaine.
“That is insane. Heroin is a killer drug,” Sanders told Rogan about the Schedule I listing of cannabis. “You can argue the pluses and minuses of marijuana, but marijuana ain’t heroin. So, we have to end that and that’s what I will do as President of the United States. I believe we can do that through executive order, and I will do that.”
A presidential executive order is a legal instrument by which a president can make something law without approval from Congress. Sanders believes the law would allow him to legalize cannabis through executive order.
The law around executive orders is complex. Presidents get some authority from the U.S. Constitution to have control over how the executive branch is managed. They also have been given some latitude through congressional acts through the years.
Executive orders through history have involved making big changes to America. During the Depression and World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt issued more than 3,500 executive orders, according to the American Bar Association.
The Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves in the United States was essentially an executive order made by President Abraham Lincoln. President Harry Truman used an executive order to integrate the military services. Dwight D. Eisenhower used an executive order to desegregate public schools.
Where Candidates Stand
In 2016, Sanders became the first major presidential candidate in history to introduce legislation that would legalize marijuana at the national level, according to Newsweek. But his bill received no co-sponsors.
Today, Sanders also is for expunging the records of anyone arrested for low-level marijuana crimes in the past, such as possession of small amounts of marijuana. That’s something that is happening in some parts of the country where recreational marijuana has been legalized, including California.
Other Democratic candidates who have said they support legalizing marijuana and expunging past records include Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, Newsweek reported.
Frontrunner Joe Biden has said he supports the decriminalization of marijuana but has not come out in support of full legalization at the national level. Adult-use cannabis is now legal in 11 states and the District of Columbia. More than 90 million Americans live where marijuana is legal for adult use.