During a recent interview with Breaking Points’ Krystal Ball, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and the host discussed a myriad of complicated issues on President Biden’s docket, but it was the brief mention of legalizing marijuana that caught our attention. When broaching the subject of executive order, Ball quickly threw out a comment about how Biden could, in theory, federally legalize and/or deschedule the long-prohibited herb using that overarching power. Although the conversation was a bit flustered at this point, you can clearly hear Sanders say “yes.” While that sounds promising to many of us, the matter is much more complex than most of us can wrap our heads around.
The first thing to note here is that even though Sanders is the Chair of the United States Senate Committee on the Budget under Biden, the two have differing opinions on legalizing cannabis. Sanders pledged during his 2020 presidential campaign that he would “legalize marijuana in every state in this country” on his very first day in office — a lofty goal even in the eyes of us pro-cannabis folks. But, of course, Sanders is not in the oval office and Biden, who is notoriously fickle about the different aspects of marijuana legalization, is, leaving us to wonder how the path to federal legalization will unfold under his leadership. “Joe Biden and I on marijuana — I think the war on drugs has been just a disaster for this country, for the African-American community. I think it should end,” said Sanders. “I think marijuana should be legalized. We could do that fairly simply. But yeah, so we have differences,” he continued, alluding to the President’s anti-reform position. While we have seen glimmers of hope from Biden that he’s open to “changing the rules” about marijuana in the U.S., we have yet to see any true action or progress from his office.
On top of those differences, legal challenges stand in the way of removing a controlled substance from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). You can dive into those here but, essentially, multiple government departments and officials would need to collaborate in different ways to make it happen. Even if Biden was Sanders’-level pro-reform, he couldn’t just snap his fingers and deschedule cannabis or, for that matter, any other drug. And while we know that Biden is as hesitant as humanly possible to legalize (the man reminded the nation that his views on the matter had not changed just minutes after Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and others introduced a draft of a legalization bill), he did promise to decriminalize marijuana possession during his 2020 campaign. At this point, the President has completely fallen short on that promise.