Bernie Sanders Says He Would Legalize Marijuana by Executive Order

Legalizing marijuana has long been part of Bernie Sanders' policy platform: The Democratic presidential candidate has called for an end to the "destructive 'war on drugs" as part of his racial justice and criminal justice reform policies—along with eliminating private prisons, the death penalty, cash bail and mandatory minimum sentencing.

But in a recent interview, Sanders got specific, pledging to legalize marijuana by executive order.

"When I ran for president for the Democratic nomination in 2016, I talked about a broken criminal justice system, which ends up having in the United States more people in jail than any other country," Sanders told Joe Rogan on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. "And what I call for then, and I call for now, is the legalization of marijuana in America."

Bernie Sanders speaks at a twon hall in North Las Vegas, Nevada on August 4. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Sanders outlined his plans in response to Rogan pointing out that pesticides and other poor agricultural practices can endanger cannabis consumers in states where it's currently legal.

"All of this because it's not federally legal," Rogan added. "Because we can't have sanctioned, licensed companies doing an ethical job of growing something that any responsible, law-abiding person should be able to consume."

Sanders' approach to marijuana legalization takes aim at the Controlled Substances Act, which puts cannabis in the same Schedule One category as heroin, MDMA and psilocybin.

"That is insane. Heroin is a killer drug," he said on the episode. "You can argue the plusses and minuses of marijuana, but marijuana ain't heroin. So we have to end that and that's what I will do as President of the United States. I believe we can do that through executive order and I will do that."

California compassionate care marijuana dispensary
The California Compassionate Care Network (CCCN) marijuana dispensary's grow operation is one of the stops on the cannabis tour organized by L.A.-based Green Tours, January 24, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

In 2016, Sanders became the first major presidential candidate to endorse marijuana legalization. That position followed The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, a Senate bill he authored that would have removed marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

The bill received no co-sponsors.

"I think ultimately we have got to legalize marijuana, and what's good news is some communities, some cities, are expunging the records. So if you were arrested [and] have a criminal record for selling marijuana, that is being expunged. And that is the right thing to do," Sanders told Rogan.

“I am running for President because we need to invest in jobs and education for our kids, not more jails and incarceration. We need to end the destructive war on drugs private prisons, and cash bail, and bring about major police department reform.” @BernieSanders #Bernie2020

— People for Bernie (@People4Bernie) February 19, 2019

Other Democratic candidates have agreed with Sanders, including Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, all of whom have signaled their intention to legalize pot and expunge criminal records for marijuana convictions.

Despite being a proponent of the war on drugs throughout his Senate career, current Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden supports decriminalization and has said "nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana." But he opposes full legalization.

"Biden's views are far out of step with the American public and he holds the worst record on cannabis related policy of any individual currently running for the Democratic or Republican nomination," said Erik Altieri, executive director of the marijuana reform organization NORML, in a statement to Rolling Stone.

Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated cocaine was a Schedule One drug. It is classified as a Schedule Two drug.