Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang Vows To Decriminalize Heroin, Other Opioids

By Lindsey Weedston 04/24/19

Yang also vowed to legalize marijuana on April 20, 2021.

Andrew Yang
Photo via Wikicommons

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang outlined his position to decriminalize drugs such as heroin and non-prescription fentanyl when found in small amounts during a CNN town hall on Sunday.

The candidate, who is relatively unknown in a crowded and growing field of Democratic presidential hopefuls, is running on a number of unusually progressive positions, including a $1,000 per month universal basic income for all U.S. citizens. He also fully supports the complete legalization of marijuana across the country.

At the town hall, Yang described the opioid crisis as a “plague” and called out the U.S. government for being “complicit in enabling this opioid epidemic,” saying it “stood by while Purdue Pharma dispensed hundreds of thousands of OxyContin prescriptions as a non-addictive wonder drug.”

“We need to decriminalize opiates for personal use,” Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang says. “I’m also for the legalization of cannabis” #YangTownHall

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 15, 2019

He recalled an exchange he'd had with a high school student whose friends had gotten their hands on fentanyl patches and were now addicted to opioids.

“How can we get them treatment when they’re afraid they’re going to get sent to jail if they step up and say, I have a problem?” Yang asked on behalf of the student. He then brought up the example of Portugal, which decriminalized all opioids as long as an individual doesn’t have more than a week’s supply of the drug. “Then, instead of referring you to a jail cell, we refer you to treatment.”

Yang specified that this policy would include heroin. However, he is not currently in favor of decriminalizing cocaine, because “the addiction has very different features.”

Yang has also vowed to pardon all non-violent cannabis-related crimes after legalizing the drug on April 20, 2021 and high-fiving every released prisoner on their way out.

Currently, all major Democratic presidential candidates support cannabis legalization. President Donald Trump has expressed support for decriminalization, though he said he would leave the issue up to the states. No other candidates have expressed support for opioid decriminalization.

A recent Emerson poll found that Yang is polling at 3%, just ahead of Senator Cory Booker. Despite founding multiple start-ups, including the non-profit Venture for America, Yang is running without political experience. 

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at Twitter: