Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) released a proposal to legalize marijuana across the U.S. and expunge criminal convictions related to the drug, embracing an overhaul of federal laws on the eve of a presidential forum expected to renew the debate on race, drugs and police violence, reports the Washington Post. Sanders is the latest Democratic White House aspirant to issue a plan for more tolerant drug laws, a shift from past presidential elections when Democrats, like Republicans, often promoted toughness. Changing attitudes toward drug crimes, and a growing number of states legalizing cannabis, have ushered in a primary where ideas once seen as provocative have become mainstream.
Sanders’s plan, which aims to overhaul an approach he says has unfairly hurt minorities, calls for using executive power to reclassify marijuana as a dangerous controlled substance and passing legislation to permanently legalize the drug. It would direct federal and state authorities to review, vacate and expunge past pot convictions. Sanders said the “horrifically destructive war on drugs..has disproportionately targeted people of color and ruined the lives of millions of Americans.” In his 2016 campaign, Sanders struggled to persuade African- American voters to support him, and many instead gravitated to Hillary Clinton. He has taken steps in his second run to improve his standing, but there is little indication he has made a significant impact in states with large minority populations. Sanders released his marijuana plan a day before the start of the Second Step Presidential Justice Forum at Benedict College, a historically black institution in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina is a key early nominating state where African Americans are expected to account for a majority of Democratic primary voters. Sanders and eight other Democrats are scheduled to speak at the forum over the next three days.