Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) would not rule out covering medical marijuana under his Medicare for All health insurance plan, a senior advisor on his presidential campaign said on Friday.
Josh Orton, Sanders’s national policy director, appeared on The Hill’s Rising program to discuss the senator’s latest cannabis reform plan, which was released at 4:20 PM ET a day earlier. Asked about the prospect of having marijuana covered through a national health insurance model, the staffer said “I think we have to do research in that.”
“But of course, Medicare for All covers all medically necessary needs,” he said. “I think this would be a question that we would have to actually trust the medical professionals to. Look, it’s not something that we would rule out, for sure.”
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, another presidential candidate, said on Wednesday that he does support having insurance plans cover medical cannabis, telling Marijuana Moment during a tour of a dispensary that “legitimate medical use of cannabis should be covered, as any therapy ought to.”
Sanders plan, which calls for descheduling through executive action and passing legislation to permanently codify legalization, also includes a variety of novel provisions such as a proposed cap on market shares to mitigate the corporatization of the industry and banning tobacco companies from participating in the cannabis space.
But some advocates have been left wondering why the senator has so far declined to adopt a drug policy position in favor of decriminalizing drugs beyond marijuana.
The Intercept reporter Ryan Grim asked Orton during the Friday interview whether Sanders’s campaign is looking into loosening federal restrictions on psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms or LSD, but he didn’t directly answer.
“The first goal here was to undo the vicious consequences of the war on drugs and most specifically how marijuana has been used not just in a policing context but also in a drug testing context to prevent people from getting public benefits,” he said. “I think right now the focus, and Bernie’s focus, has been to make sure we address the racial justice issue and undo the harm that the war on drugs as it’s related to marijuana especially has wrought.”
Sanders, who congratulated Canada on the one-year anniversary of its implementation of a legal marijuana market last week, will enact a legalization model that “will be a significant improvement on the Canadian plan,” Orton later said, emphasizing that it’s designed to prevent monopolization and promote small businesses, particularly those run by people from communities most harmed by the drug war.
“This has been a long discussion that we’ve been having—with medical experts, with activists, with legal experts—but at the end of the day, Bernie looked and sees the horrific damage that the war on drugs has caused, both for the criminal justice system and as a matter of racial justice,” Orton said. “All you have to do is look around to see the terrible mass incarceration, the terrible economic hit that communities have suffered, to see that we need to take dramatic action, bold action, right now.”