Could Bernie Sanders Legalise Cannabis on his First Day as President?

12th March 2020

Despite the US Presidential election still being almost eight months away, Party Candidate elections mean that candidates’ policies are already gaining a lot of interest. Policies on Cannabis are particularly among the frontrunners of the Democratic candidacy as they represent a stark difference of opinion on the issue of legalisation. 

Former Vice-President Joe Biden was for a long time an advocate of the failed War on Drugs. And, though he has recently revised his position on the issue – now looking to the possible decriminalisation of cannabis – his policies pale in comparison to those of his rival, Senator Bernie Sanders.

The Democratic Senator of Vermont has long supported changes to policies on cannabis. His support for cannabis legalisation on the federal level has been widely reported throughout the campaign. However, recently he took this promise a step further. A significant part of Sanders’ campaign has become revolved a claim that he would enact this national change on his first day in office.

Such a promise might well gain Sanders some more popularity among cannabis advocates, but could he actually do it?

Bernie Sanders
Senator Bernie Sanders at Candidacy rally

Executive Order

The means by which Senator Sanders plans to legalise cannabis on his first day in office is through an Executive Order. This is a way that a President (the Head of the Executive branch of government) can bypass Congress in order to get a policy enacted.

Although such a move is extreme and rare, it has happened a few times in recent history. For example, Obama’s move to close Guantanamo Bay and Trump’s order to repeal much of the so-called ‘Obamacare’ legislation. So, in theory, Sanders could potentially remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances through an Executive Order.

Would this Legalise Cannabis on Day One?

This is where Sanders’ claim goes downhill. Although a future President Bernie Sanders could sign an Executive Order effectively legalising cannabis on his first day in office, legalisation would not immediately follow. An Executive Order could begin the process of rescheduling or descheduling cannabis. However, this could take a long time to come into action.

How Would Cannabis Legalisation Work?

Following the hypothetical removal of cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, the drug would no longer be illegal at the federal level. However, there would need to be a lot of legislation introduced to support a newly legal cannabis industry. Although some states have already legalised cannabis, many others have their own legislation prohibiting the drug.

These internal state laws could present a significant obstacle for nationwide legalisation. In theory, the government could put pressure on these states to end bans on cannabis. The government did this by with-holding highway maintenance funds in order to get all states to agree to the 21+ age restriction on alcohol. However, it is possible that this sort of action would cause a backlash.

To Sum Up…

In conclusion, Bernie Sanders – if elected as President – could sign an Executive Order to legalise cannabis on his first day in office. However, this would simply be the beginning of a long and complicated process, meaning that actual, meaningful legalisation could still be a long way off.


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