Gillibrand 2020
June 5, 2019

MEDIUM: It’s time to legalize marijuana nationwide. Here’s my plan to do it.

America’s federal prohibition of marijuana needs to end now, and it will be a top priority of my presidency.

The unfair enforcement of our current marijuana laws is a continuation of the institutional racism that has defined our criminal justice system for decades. This vestige of the War on Drugs has irreparably harmed too many lives and communities — predominantly black and brown ones.

Black Americans are more likely to be arrested for non-violent marijuana offenses than white Americans, even though use rates are roughly the same across races. And we’re talking about entire lives, families, and communities being derailed: felony convictions make it much harder to get and keep jobs, access financial loans, exercise the right to vote, travel abroad, and receive social and housing benefits.

Fully legalized marijuana is also a health care issue. Millions of Americans seek medical marijuana to treat chronic or severe pain — often in an effort to avoid prescription opioids — but access is limited by insurance coverage and availability of medical marijuana dispensaries, even in states where medical marijuana is legal. We should be expanding patients’ access to treatment they need, especially when it helps reduce addiction to dangerous medications.

These are real injustices that affect millions of Americans and multiple areas of our society, and it’s past time to get to work making them right.

As president, I will immediately deschedule marijuana as a controlled substance, and start working to not only heal the damage done by racist drug laws, but tap into the medical and economic opportunity that legal marijuana offers.

This includes plans to:

  • Establish a national process to make marijuana production and consumption clean, safe, and sustainable
  • Expunge all non-violent marijuana convictions
  • Invest in research for medicinal applications, and require coverage for medical marijuana in all health insurance plans, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA
  • Legalize and tax recreational marijuana nationwide, and direct revenue towards programs that help repair the damage done by the War on Drugs
  • Normalize cannabis businesses’ tax treatment and allow access to the banking system
  • Create equity for small business investment in the cannabis industry, lifting up communities that have been most hurt by marijuana laws
We’ve made great progress in recent years on legalizing marijuana at the state and municipal level, and we’ve seen the positive benefits in states like Colorado, Washington, and more. But a state-by-state patchwork is not enough to tackle the deeply rooted racial, social, and economic injustices within our marijuana laws, or to fully unleash the economic equity and opportunity of marijuana legalization.

Here’s more detail on what my plan will do:

Decriminalize marijuana and expunge all non-violent marijuana charges

There’s no denying that our application of marijuana laws is wildly unjust. And while we have to stop the mass incarceration of people of color, we also have to take steps to make things right for those who’ve already been affected.

As president, I’ll expunge all records for non-violent marijuana convictions, giving those prosecuted as felons a fresh start. These situations are far too common: In 2015, 650,000 people were arrested for marijuana law violations; 89% of those were for simple possession. There’s no reason why such a minor offense should shatter your whole future. As president, I would work to restore voting rights by expunging all non-violent marijuana related offenses, and have the Department of Justice work with states to ensure that all civil rights — including voting rights — are restored.

Invest in research and expand access to medical marijuana

Marijuana has enormous benefits for a wide range of medical issues, from chronic pain to cancer treatments. It can help combat our opioid addiction epidemic, and has helped thousands of our veterans treat mental and physical health conditions. As part of legalization, I will ensure access to coverage for medical marijuana in all private health insurance plans, as well as federal programs like the VA, Medicare, and Medicaid.

I’ll also invest in research at the NIH and FDA, to make up for the lost time on discovering even more medical usages and benefits of marijuana.

Completely legalize and tax marijuana for adult recreational use

We should see ending the prohibition of marijuana as similar to ending the prohibition on alcohol a century ago: Fundamentally, whether adults use marijuana is a matter of privacy, and we should treat marijuana as a major economic opportunity and revenue source.

In Colorado and Washington, where marijuana has been decriminalized and taxed since 2014, marijuana taxes have brought in hundreds of millions of dollars. That revenue has fueled programs focused on education and rebuilding crumbling schools, combating the opioid epidemic and homelessness, mental health programs, and more. We need to make that happen across the entire country.

As president, I’ll work with Congress to pass an excise tax on the sale of non-prescription marijuana products. The revenue generated from that tax will be directed into a trust fund that supports programs — like job training and education — for communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana laws in the past.

Create economic equity and justice through marijuana-driven opportunity

Beyond addressing criminal justice through marijuana legalization, we have to enact economic justice, too. Legalization by the states has shown the immense economic opportunity of a marijuana market, especially for small businesses. With that opportunity comes the chance to lift up communities held down for generations by unjust marijuana laws.

My administration will give small businesses in underserved communities access to capital and technical assistance through marijuana-specific programs. Those programs will work directly with the communities to prioritize small businesses owned by women and minorities, especially black and Latinx owners. I’ll also ensure that those businesses have equal access to tax normalization, federally chartered banks, and other financial resources.

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Nothing proposed today can ever undo the devastating harm done to generations of communities and families of color by the War on Drugs. But it’s long past time to start making this right. With this plan, we can begin to dismantle the institutional racism in our criminal justice system, open up important new medical and economic horizons, and lift up communities who need and deserve a fair shot at opportunity.

It’s 2019. It’s time to legalize marijuana nationwide. As president, I’ll get it done.