Democratic primary season is here. Have you sent in your ballot yet Washington state voters? If not, and you’re still on the fence it shouldn’t be a hard choice for those that have strong opinions. There are only two remaining candidates, and they have some pretty drastically different views on basically everything, cannabis included. So where do the Democratic candidates stand on cannabis?

Bernie Sanders’ Cannabis History

Bernie Sanders is a pretty outspoken advocate for cannabis legalization. Like much of his policy, the question isn’t what he wants to do, it’s whether he’d be able to pull it off. When it comes to cannabis, what Bernie wants is clear. He wants to legalize that shit.

Sanders has an impressively long history of supporting cannabis legalization. He was into legal weed before it was cool. In the mid to late ‘90s, when Bernie was in the House, he co-sponsored two medical cannabis bills, H.R. 2618, and H.R.1782. Since then he has sponsored and co-sponsored all kinds of pro-cannabis legislation. 

Bernie’s 2020 Cannabis Plan

Bernie’s campaign promises to continue with this pattern. He has a full section on his website dedicated to ‘legalizing marijuana.’

From his website:

Key Points 


  • Legalize marijuana in the first 100 days with executive action 
  • Vacate and expunge all past marijuana-related convictions 
  • Ensure that revenue from legal marijuana is reinvested in communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs 
  • Ensure legalized marijuana does not turn into big tobacco


That’s a pretty clear plan. And for those interested in cannabis and social justice, it’s hard to argue with that platform. 

The only pushback from cannabis activists has been the viability of his plan. Current federal and local drug laws cannot be undone by executive order alone. So in certain states, Sanders’ administration wouldn’t be able to vacate cannabis charges for instance.

Basically, despite Bernie’s best intentions, legalizing cannabis at the federal level will not be easy. It could also make those prohibition loving republicans bristle and double down.

Despite the potential complications in Bernie’s plan, most cannabis advocates would prefer his ambitious idealism to other candidate’s who have a more checkered past when it comes to cannabis legalization. NORML gives Sanders an A+ grade in their voters’ guide. Bernie’s hard to beat in terms of where candidates stand on cannabis.

Joe Biden’s Cannabis History

Where does Joe Biden stand on cannabis? If you like weed you’re not going to like his history with cannabis and drug legislation in general.

Here are some examples of awful drug legislation Biden helped write and/or advocated for:

  • Comprehensive Control Act: This 1984 law, pushed through by Biden and Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), expanded federal drug trafficking penalties and gave cops the right to take drug dealers’ property.
  • Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986: Biden sponsored and wrote portions of this bill, which increased penalties for drug crimes. This is the bill that differentiated crack and cocaine, and made possession of five grams of crack punishable by five years in prison with no parole, whereas it took 500 grams of cocaine to receive the same punishment. Interesting when you consider the Iran Contra was going on at this exact time. 
  • Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988: This law, co-sponsored by Biden, increased prison sentences for drug possession and transporting drugs, and established the Office of National Drug Control Policy, to help ramp up federal anti-drug efforts.

Biden also publicly criticized George H. Bush’s War on Drugs for not going far enough and needing to hold individual drug users accountable. Wow, ok.

He also helped write the now infamous 1994 Crime Bill which helped usher in an era of mass incarceration. In fairness, Sanders voted yes on that bill, though he did so reluctantly saying that it had major problems but he wanted to pass the Violence Against Women Act, which the bill included. 

Biden’s 2020 Cannabis Plan

But what about now? While Biden’s cannabis plan isn’t mentioned on his website like Bernie, he’s gone on record stating that he plans to decriminalize cannabis, expunge cannabis conviction records, and allow states to decide for themselves when it comes to cannabis law.

That plan is fine, albeit far behind Sanders and the other candidates who dropped out, who all advocated federal cannabis legalization. But given his record and the state of the country, it’s not exactly progressive. That said, it’s fairly realistic which may be alluring for some. 

Making the Choice

If cannabis is an important issue for you for the democratic primary, there’s lots of information out there about the two frontrunners to make your choice. It may seem clear that Sanders is the cannabis candidate, but their cannabis plans each have perks and would be an improvement to the current administration. Knowing where candidates stand on cannabis can help you make your choice. 


Bernie Sanders’ photo by Gage Skidmore, retouched by Wugapodes / CC BY-SA Joe Biden’s Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America / CC BY-SA