February 25, 2020 Published Kyle Jaeger
The Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina on Tuesday revealed fissures in how the candidates view marijuana reform, with former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg doubling down on his opposition to legalization and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) facing questions about the logistics of his plan to legalize in all 50 days on the first day of his presidency.
The exchange began when a moderator asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) whether Sanders’s proposal to use executive action to legalize cannabis nationwide on the day he takes office and also expunge prior marijuana convictions was realistic.
“It is realistic to want to legalize marijuana. I want to do that too,” Klobuchar said. “I also think you need to look back at people’s records. You maybe can’t do that on day one, as he said. I think you want a process that you go through because there are too many people that have things on their records that stopped them from getting jobs.”
The senator went on to say that legalization should be coupled with investments in substance misuse treatment.
Klobuchar touched on a point that experts told Marijuana Moment in a recent analysis of Sanders’s plan. While advocates have celebrated the fact that Sanders has made cannabis reform a major part of his campaign, legal experts have questioned whether a president could unilaterally lift the prohibition of marijuana immediately, and they also pointed out that states would likely continue to enforce anti-cannabis laws regardless of a change in the plant’s status under federal law.
Bloomberg, who is one of just two candidates on the stage who opposes marijuana legalization, was then pressed on his record of characterizing cannabis as an addictive drug that has not been adequately researched. The former mayor has also recently faced criticism over a recording that recently surfaced showing him justifying racially disproportionate cannabis arrests during his time in office.
“The first thing you should do is we should not make this a criminal thing if you have a small amount. For dealers, yes. But for the average person, no,” Bloomberg said. “You should expunge the records of those that got caught up in this before. Number two, we’re not going to take it away from states that have already done it.”
But he went on to say that “you should listen to the scientists and the doctors. They say go very slowly, they haven’t done enough research and the evidence so far is worrisome. Before we get all our kids—particularly kids in their late teens, boys even more than girls—where this may be damaging their brains, until we know the science, it’s just nonsensical to push ahead,” he said. “But the cat’s out of the bag,” he said. “Some states have it, you’re not going to take it away. Decriminalize the possession.”
Sanders then got a chance to argue that his plan is a realistic solution to ending the drug war.