Bernie Is Back—With a Commitment to Progressive Drug Policies

    Bernie Sanders, a leading leftist in the crowded cohort of Democratic presidential hopefuls for 2020, has reiterated his commitment to progressive drug policy and criminal justice transformation.

    In a February 25 op-ed in the Guardian, Sanders reaffirmed many of his 2016 campaign talking points. He continues to eye a $15 minimum wage, free public higher ed, and banning the sale of assault weapons.

    Sanders also pledges to take on health insurance and drug companies, noting that US health outcomes do not match the country’s big spending on healthcare and prescriptions. He aspires to guarantee healthcare “as a right, not a privilege, through a Medicare-for-all program.” Sanders’ goal of reigning in Pharma was illustrated by his November 2018 introduction of legislation to lower prescription drug prices by opening up markets for generic brands.

    The Vermont senator further criticizes the “destructive ‘war on drugs'” and mass incarceration that disproportionately cages people of color. He asserts that he strives to “eliminate” private prisons and cash bail, while also reforming police departments.

    Sanders’ op-ed did not mention his position on cannabis legalization; however, he has publicly supported federal legalization, most recently in his latest book, Where We Go From Here. Along with other senators, like fellow candidate Massachussets Senator Elizabeth Warren, Sanders introduced legislation to deschedule the drug back in mid-2018.

    Other Democratic presidential candidates have expressed support for policies similar to those endorsed by Sanders—though arguably to a lesser extent.

    In addition to Warren, California Senator Kamala Harris and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar have said they support marijuana legalization. However, both lack a track record to vouch for their sincerity. (Harris has a prickly past with the issue of cannabis legalization and criminal justice reform more broadly.) Meanwhile, New Jersey Senator Corey Booker supports legalization, and introduced a senate bill to decriminalize marijuana back in 2017—one deemed by advocates like Drug Policy Alliance to take a “comprehensive approach.”

    While some have argued that 77-year-old Sanders’ 2016 campaign represented his peak, he retains significant support—as illustrated by his campaign raising $6 million in the 24 hours following the declaration of his candidacy on February 19, outpacing his early rivals.

    Sanders’ 2020 campaign promises are inflected with an oppositional tone that positions him in contrast to President Donald Trump. Described by Jacobin as “the most progressive president in US history,” if he were to be elected, Sanders emphasizes his commitment to “defeating Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in modern American history.” His op-ed also stresses that he continues to prioritize “creating a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”

    Photograph: US Senator Bernie Sanders

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