Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, is a long-time supporter of the idea of federal marijuana reform. He, as do many others, believing it’s “insane” to continue classifying the substance as a Schedule I drug (like heroin).
In a recent interview with Joe Rogan, Sanders said he would use an executive order to legalize marijuana at the highest and fullest level of the law.
“You can argue the pluses and minuses of marijuana, but marijuana ain’t heroin. So we have to end [marijuana prohibition], and that’s what I will do,” the Senator said to Rogan. “As President of the United States, I believe we can do that through executive order, and I will do that.”
That said, Bernie’s plan could be a whole lot more complicated than the presidential hopeful would lead us to believe.
Can a U.S. president get away with legalizing marijuana with the mere stroke of his pen?
Yes, in reality, he can. However, there is more to making the law come to be than simply a few squiggles on paper. There is a massive amount of red-taped bureaucracy involved. First, the president would theoretically need to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
“The president would have to use the order to direct his Attorney General to start the process, [and] the Attorney General then makes the request to the Department of Health and Human Services to undergo a review on whether or not the substance belongs on the list of scheduled substances,” executive director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Erick Altieri, said.
“After that review, the department would then report their findings back to the Attorney General who makes the final decision.”
In the past, agencies such as the DEA and USFDA have had the final say on which category marijuana belongs to. That said, times are changing.
“[The Attorney General] must have the autonomy to nonetheless alter the schedule despite such FDA determination, if 811 is to have any meaning at all,” an attorney who has worked on several cases that challenged marijuana’s Schedule I status, David Holland.
U.S. Code 811 is a federal law that gives the Attorney General the power to “remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule.”
If this were to happen, the next thing to happen is for the Attorney General to initiate an administrative rulemaking process to remove marijuana from the CSA.
So, yes, if he becomes president, Sanders indeed could legalize cannabis federally. However, it would by no means be the best, or fastest, method of doing so.
“Possibly more important than seeing the executive process through until the end, if a President Sanders were to make his intentions clear on this topic it would apply additional pressure on Congress to act,” Altieri said.