Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang said on Wednesday that while President-elect Joe Biden has a “relatively middle-of-the-road” position on marijuana reform, he’s optimistic about the prospects of a federal policy change under the incoming administration.
At a National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) business summit, Yang also discussed his own political future, legalization as a means to boost the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, a cannabis strain that was named after him and the implications of state-level legalization victories on Election Day.
“He was less aggressive than, say, I was, or some of the other candidates,” Yang said of Biden, who has refused to join the majority of U.S. voters in endorsing broad cannabis legalization. “But even Joe has been making signals about decriminalizing and not prosecuting various marijuana-related statutes and restrictions.”
That signal did not come out of a recent policy page on racial equity put out by Biden’s transition team, however. It omitted cannabis reform proposals while including other criminal justice plans that were talked about during the campaign.
But Yang is optimistic about the progress the marijuana legalization movement has been seeing.
“I’m thrilled. I’m thrilled that progress is coming all the time,” he said. “I think every time we have an election, there are going to be more states that want to join the ever-growing, cool states club.”
Yang was also asked by a Politico reporter who moderated the session about different routes for federal reform and which he thought would be best from a business perspective: legalizing marijuana nationwide and mandating that states adopt the policy or simply decriminalizing cannabis. He said “it would almost certainly be full legal” if he were in charge, but that he feels under the current political climate it makes sense that states should still have autonomy to make that decision for themselves.
It should be noted that marijuana bills currently moving through Congress—including a comprehensive legalization bill that’s expected to get a House vote next month—would not mandate that states end criminalization or adopt specific regulations to create a cannabis market. Rather, the legislation advocates are pushing for would federally deschedule marijuana and let states enact their own laws without interference.
“If you were to leave it up to me and say, ‘Hey, you get to do whatever you want. You’re you’re the president and you have Congress and the rest of it,’ I would be looking at full legalization because I just do not see a reason why marijuana should be illegal in really any part of the country,” he said. “That said, in the world we actually live in, I would favor decriminalization because I think for many states, they want to have their own rules in place—like they may have different considerations than another part of the country. And they should have that discretion in most cases, in my opinion.”
“Generally speaking, communities that are closer to the ground have a better read on both what their people want and value and what the potential tradeoffs would be, by and large,” he said. “We’re very big, diverse countries. So to me, putting it in the hands of the states seems like the right move.”
Asked about the economic impact legalization could have on the budget amid the COVID-19 health crisis, Yang said he sees opportunity but also recognizes the extent of the downturn is more than one plant can handle.
“Our economy pre-pandemic was $22 trillion a year and the pandemic has blown—let’s call it somewhere between a $3-4 trillion hole in the economy. Asking marijuana to fill a $3 or $4 trillion hole is asking a lot,” he said. “We would have to be like up to our freaking eyeballs in the plant itself in order to generate several trillion.”
“So I think that it is a big business and a very big opportunity. And, you know, in the scheme of current opportunities that are out there, it is likely one of the biggest—it’s in like the multi-billions of dollars, and you can’t say that about a lot of industries,” he added. “But if we’re going to truly recover, we’re going to need massive public sector expenditures on a level that we have likely not seen ever potentially.”
True to Yang’s personality on the campaign trail, he brought levity to the interview.
For example, he excitedly noted that a dispensary had named a marijuana variety after him—”Yang Ganja” or “Yanganja,” it’s unclear what the spelling is—though he’s yet to try it so “I can’t vouch for the quality of the strain, but I’m sure it’s good.”
Yang—who made headlines during his presidential run after pledging to pardon everyone convicted of a low-level marijuana offense on the unofficial 4/20 holiday and high five them on their way out—said that the political world likely has not seen the last of him.
“You will likely see an Andrew Yang for X at some point in the future. You know, it’s gonna be a blast,” he said. “So keep an eye out Yang 20-whatever the heck the number is.”