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Most 2020 Democratic presidential candidates agree on recreational marijuana: Legalize it

Key Points
  • There's one issue the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates almost all agree on: removing marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances.
  • Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use and more states have signaled they're interested in doing so.
  • Critics of recreational marijuana fear it would make the drug too accessible and could promote misuse, but supporters cite increased tax revenues and racial imbalances in criminal sentences for drug offenders as reasons for legalization.
Stephen Mandile, an Iraq veteran and medical marijuana advocate from Uxbridge, uses a vape pen with CO2 cannabis concentrate in Bellingham, MA on Nov. 18, 2018.
Pat Greenhouse | Boston Globe | Getty Images

There's one topic almost every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate agrees on: removing marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances.

Nearly every candidate has offered support for the federal legalization of recreational marijuana and many have called to expunge federal charges for those prosecuted for pot use.

Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use and more states have signaled interest in doing so. Public opinion has shifted in favor of legalization, with 61% of Americans believing marijuana should be legal. Democrats support it even more, with 76% favoring legal marijuana, according to a 2018 poll of 2,348 American adults.

Critics of recreational marijuana fear it would make the drug too accessible and could promote misuse, but supporters cite increased tax revenues and racial imbalances in criminal sentences for drug offenders as reasons for legalization.

Here is what the Democratic presidential candidates have said and done about legalization:

The Marijuana Justice Act

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey reintroduced a bill in February that would legalize marijuana nationwide, expunge federal convictions and allow those prosecuted for use to petition the courts for shorter sentences. Booker first introduced the Marijuana Justice Act in 2017, but it was not taken up for a vote.

Other Democratic presidential candidates have offered support for the proposal, with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders co-sponsoring the bill.

Sanders has been a major supporter of marijuana legalization and introduced the Senate's first-ever bill to end the federal prohibition on marijuana in 2015.

Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who announced his candidacy earlier this month, and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard also signed on to the Marijuana Justice Act's companion bill in the House.

Though Booker's proposal has support from a number of Democrats, it faces a tough road in the Senate. Last year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he does "not have any plans to endorse the legalization of marijuana," when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced a bill that would decriminalize the drug.

Republicans hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate, although Democrats control the House.

Other legalization bills

The Marijuana Justice Act is only the most recent bill that candidates have supported.

  • In January, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced plans to pardon thousands of citizens with misdemeanor marijuana possession charges after his state was one of the first to legalize recreational pot. Inslee also told CBS News Radio that "it's time for the nation to legalize marijuana."
  • Warren sponsored the STATES Act, which would prevent the federal government from intervening in states that have legalized pot. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who recently said in a statement to The Washington Post that she supports legalization, is a co-sponsor.
  • During his time in Congress, Beto O'Rourke of Texas signed onto bills that sought to end federal marijuana prohibition and protect states that legalized marijuana from federal intervention. After announcing his candidacy, O'Rourke called for the end of federal marijuana interdiction.
  • California Rep. Eric Swalwell is a co-sponsor of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would reclassify marijuana at the federal level and protect pot users in states that choose to legalize it.
  • Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland co-sponsored cannabis-related bills during his time in Congress, including one that sought to protect individuals in states that legalized marijuana from federal interference. During a CNN Town Hall in March, Delaney said marijuana should be reclassified at the federal level.

Though some candidates have not signed onto marijuana-related bills, they've still voiced support for legalization.

  • South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said "the safe, regulated and legal sale of marijuana is an idea whose time has come for the United States," according to The Boston Globe.
  • Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro tweeted that marijuana should be legalized and that the records of those in prison for marijuana use should be expunged.
  • Long-shot candidate Andrew Yang, who has no political experience, has also called for federal legalization.
Letting states decide

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper initially condemned his state's decision to legalize recreational pot, calling it "reckless." Since then, he signed a number of cannabis-related bills into law, but he's stopped short of supporting the end of federal prohibition.

Hickenlooper said during a CNN Town Hall in March that he wouldn't call for the federal government to legalize marijuana and would instead let the states decide for themselves.