The conversation around marijuana legalization across the United States always comes to the forefront when April 20 rolls around. Known online and in popular culture as “4/20,” or “Weed Day,” April 20 celebrates any and everything in cannabis culture every year — from iconic stoners in popular movies to conversations around marijuana legalization.
Marijuana, both recreational and medical, is currently legal in 11 states: Colorado, California, Washington, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska, Illinois, Michigan, Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts. Making marijuana legal (or keeping it illegal) has been a talking point for many politicians at some point in their career, whether they were seeking a seat in the Senate or the White House. In 33 states, the use of medical cannabis is currently legal, too.
While some have repeatedly struck down any possibility of recreational, medical, or the usage of both kinds of marijuana being legalized in their state, others have fought long and hard for just the opposite. Many politicians have hoped that decriminalization of marijuana would help stimulate our economy and recalibrate concerns around both racial and class disparities around drug use in the U.S. A few have even admitted to using marijuana recreationally themselves. Here's a roundup of politicians working hard to legalize all types of marijuana across the country.
While only dabbling in recreational weed when he was younger, Sen. Bernie Sanders has long been a staunch supporter of the legalization of marijuana in the U.S. In 2015, the Vermont senator introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would remove marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, to the 115th Congress; while it didn’t pass, it’s been introduced twice in Congress in the five years since. Sanders also had a detailed plan to legalize marijuana across 50 states should he had been elected President in the 2020 election, and has supported politicians who have sought to legalize marijuana in their own bills.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker first introduced the Marijuana Justice Act in 2017, which was the “first congressional bill to incorporate record expungement and community reinvestment with marijuana legalization.” He reintroduced the bill again in 2019, with the backing of politicians including Sens. Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren. As a result, he’s also co-authored the bipartisan CARERS Act and the bipartisan REDEEM Act, both of which dealt with the legalization of medical marijuana and nonviolent drug offenders getting the chance to clear their records, respectively. Booker himself has never been forthcoming about recreational marijuana use, though he has called out other politicians for making light of their past usage while the drug is still criminalized to so many.
Sen. Gillibrand was one of the many 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to have supported weed legalization in the past. She introduced a bill in 2019 that called for the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana use, and supported Sen. Cory Booker’s reintroducing of the Marijuana Justice Act that same year.
Former President Barack Obama famously smoked marijuana as a teenager and college student, the evidence of which has been documented in several photos and in his biographies. During his presidency, while he was for keeping state laws around the sale of weed in place, Obama didn’t seek to dismantle them. He later referred to the weed as a “public-health” discussion on the same level as cigarettes and alcohol in 2016, taking a bit of the stigma away. Still, Obama's help to destigmatize recreational marijuana has pushed other politicians to take note of the significant changes that could come with legalization.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been on the side of weed legalization primarily because of how it affects minority communities. Warren outlined her vision for “a just and equitable cannabis industry” during her 2020 presidential campaign, detailing, for example, the progress states who have legalized weed have made in raising money in cannabis taxes to include back in the community. According to Warren's plan, legalization of marijuana and the removal of fear of federal punishment could help to equalize both race and class disparities in the U.S.
Former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher has been a longtime supporter of medical and recreational marijuana use and has been vocal about his support over the years. He co-founded the House of Representatives’ Cannabis Caucus in 2017, was a known supporter of medical marijuana production companies, and joined cannabis company BudTrader as a shareholder and advisory board member in 2019. His advocacy helped push forward decriminalization agendas for years while he was in office.
It’s well-known that former Vice President Al Gore has stated in the past that he was an avid marijuana smoker as a young adult. While he has said in office that he wasn’t so much of a smoker anymore, Gore positioned himself as someone who wished to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana use instead of criminalizing it. Gore took this position as early as the 2000 presidential election, where the subject of marijuana was still taboo to much of the U.S. Congress.