WASHINGTON (CN) — Senator Bernie Sanders on Thursday proposed nationwide legalization of marijuana, to “end the horrifically destructive war on drugs,” that he said “disproportionately targeted people of color and ruined the lives of millions of Americans.”
“We’re going to legalize marijuana and end the horrifically destructive war on drugs,” Sanders said in a statement, promising to use executive action to get the process started, if he is elected.
The war on drugs, announced in those terms under the Nixon administration, “has disproportionately targeted people of color and ruined the lives of millions of Americans,” the Independent from Vermont said. “When we’re in the White House, we’re going to end the greed and corruption of the big corporations and make sure that Americans hit hardest by the war on drugs will be the first to benefit from legalization.”
Black Americans are more than four times more likely than whites to be arrested on marijuana charges even though all races use the drug at similar rates, he said.
After taking executive action to legalize marijuana, Sanders said, he would introduce legislation to codify the change. Recent polls show that 64% of Americans support decriminalization of marijuana, including more than 50% of Republicans. Eleven states have legalized the drug for recreational purposes, and medical marijuana is legal in 33 states.
Sanders also promised to invest in communities that have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, promising they will be “first in line” to benefit from the new tax source.
He said he’d create a $10 billion U.S. Department of Agriculture grant program for growing marijuana in urban and rural areas, “ensuring that the people victimized by criminalization see the direct benefits.”
He said he would expunge marijuana-related criminal convictions as well.
“Why is it that millions of dollars are being made by mostly white, mostly male, and already rich ‘cannabiz’ entrepreneurs in states where marijuana is legal, while the people and communities that were ravaged by the War on Drugs have been shut out of the industry, denied credit, and many are still incarcerated?” he wrote.
Sanders said he would keep a close eye on the industry, to make sure it didn’t follow the public-health-harming path of Big Tobacco, and prevent marketing to children.
And he said he’d use the tax money from marijuana sales to create grant programs that prioritize minority business owners and entrepreneurs.