Many presidential candidates have floated opinions about the legalization of cannabis. Many, like Independent candidate Lincoln Chafee, favor and end to the “war on drugs”, or like Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg, tie legalization to criminal justice reform.
Recently, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders’ campaign floated several ideas for executive orders that might be undertaken on “Day One” of his presidency should he be elected. Among them is an order to direct the Justice Department to legalize marijuana.
The idea is deceptively simple, and probably a longer process than a stroke of a pen. What a President can do is instruct his Attorney General, by executive order, to begin the process of removing marijuana from Schedule 1. His Attorney General would then undertake the process of rescheduling cannabis which would, no doubt, include months of research, committees, and testimony by all sides of the issue.
Sanders, should he be elected, might take a course of action much like the Obama Administration’s stance. Rather than attempting to directly legalize, it effectively decriminalized marijuana use in states where it was legal by directing his Justice Department to de-prioritize pursuit of cannabis users. Since executive orders only direct the Federal government they are limited to effecting change in those government bodies. So, while a de-prioritization tack would affect the cannabis industry in states where it has been legalized, it couldn’t stop states and municipalities from enforcing their current laws.