WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - Senator Bernie Sanders released a proposal on Thursday (Oct 24) to legalise marijuana across the country 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.
Mr Sanders becomes 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 more toughness.
Changing attitudes towards drug crimes, and a growing number of states legalising cannabis, have ushered in a primary where ideas once seen as provocative have become mainstream.
Mr Sanders' plan, which aims to overhaul an approach he argues has unfairly hurt minorities, calls for using executive power to reclassify marijuana as a dangerous controlled substance and passing legislation to permanently legalise the drug. It would direct federal and state authorities to review, vacate and expunge past marijuana convictions.
"We're going to legalise marijuana and end the horrifically destructive war on drugs," the Vermont independent said in a written statement.
"It has disproportionately targeted people of colour and ruined the lives of millions of Americans."
In his 2016 campaign, Mr Sanders struggled to persuade African American voters to support him, and many instead gravitated to Mrs Hillary Clinton. He has taken steps in his second run to improve his standing, but so far there is little indication his outreach has made a significant impact in states with large minority populations.
Mr 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, South Carolina.
The state is an important early nominating state where African Americans are expected to account for a majority of Democratic primary voters. Mr Sanders and eight other Democrats are scheduled to speak at the forum over the next three days.
President Donald Trump is also slated to appear, taking the stage on Friday. He will participate in a symposium called "The Conservative Case for Criminal Justice Reform", according to the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Centre, which is sponsoring the event.