Grading the Democratic Presidential Candidates on Marijuana: Andrew Yang

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Every Saturday, we have been running a series of blog posts that take a close look at the Democratic Party candidates for President in 2020. We examine each candidate’s historic approach to marijuana law and policy, and we also canvas their current respective stances on marijuana.

Over the past seven weeks, we covered Joe BidenBernie SandersKamala Harris, Elizabeth WarrenPete ButtigiegCorey Booker and Beto O’Rourke.  Today, we turn to entrepreneur and attorney Andrew Yang.

Grade: B

Stance on marijuana: Andrew Yang supports legalizing marijuana as part of his criminal justice platform. As stated on his website, Yang believes legalizing marijuana “would improve safety, social equity, and generate tens of billions of dollars in new revenue based on legal cannabis businesses.” Yang has also promised to pardon all who are imprisoned on non-violent marijuana convictions. He has criticized the War on Drugs and plans to decriminalize illicit drug use in general.

History: Yang has no record of marijuana legislation as his political career began with his 2020 presidential campaign. He has also not voiced support for any marijuana reform legislation. Additionally, criminal justice reform is not one of Yang’s “3 Big Policies” (Universal basic income, Medicare for all, and “human-centered capitalism”), indicating that it is not his top priority.

To his credit, Yang’s website details a comprehensive criminal justice reform platform which, among other things, includes reviewing mandatory minimums and harsh felony laws. Specifically addressing the War on Drugs, Yang’s website calls for decriminalizing the possession and use of small amounts of opioids. He hopes to provide treatment rather than punishment for sufferers of addiction.

Though marijuana is not a main focus of his campaign, Yang has advocated for the legalization of marijuana in interviews, as well as on social media and his website. This past December, Yang clearly established his views on legalization in a post on Twitter:

Our criminalization of marijuana is stupid and racist, particularly now that it’s legal in some states. We should proceed with full legalization and pardon of those in jail for non-violent marijuana-related offenses.

Yang’s statement references the disproportionate number of people of color arrested on marijuana charges. He again talked about the criminalization of marijuana and racial inequity during interviews in February and March. In July, he shared an interview on Twitter where he supported legalizing marijuana, equating it to cigarettes and alcohol.

Though Yang’s ultimate goal is to legalize marijuana, he suspects the process will take time. During this time, Yang wants to provide veterans with waivers so they could receive their marijuana prescriptions through the VA, regardless of the legal status of marijuana in their state. Veterans could potentially use the waivers for other illegal substances if they are proven to be therapeutic.

Conclusion: Yang receives a “B ” grade. Yang’s rhetoric is promising, but he lacks a legislative record on marijuana reform and criminal justice reform is not one of his “3 Big Policies.” His views on cannabis are good, but it is not clear how important they are to him. As president, Yang would likely be an advocate for legalizing marijuana, but it is unclear whether he is dedicated enough to make it happen.