Sanders Takes Pro Marijuana Stance
Fiery Vermont senator and Democratic presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders, took a bold stance in favor of marijuana reform during a rousing two hour town hall event at George Mason University in Fairfax County, VA.
From the podium, he addressed the 1,700 presumably like-minded students in attendance as well as those watching the event on a live stream to nearly 300 college campuses across the nation. Most notably, he proposed to remove marijuana from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s list of dangerous “Schedule I” controlled substances. Marijuana’s place on the “Schedule 1” list is for dangerous drugs with no medicinal purpose whatsoever. It ranks “weed” alongside drugs like heroin, MDMA and cocaine, which are known to be more dangerous and addictive. Shockingly, everyday “pot” is ranked higher than Schedule II drugs like crystal meth! Additionally, marijuana has proven health benefits according to many medical researchers. In fact, several states have legalized it, even for non-medicinal purposes, causing a deep federal/state divide that desperately needs resolution.
Unsurprisingly, the crowd responded with enthusiastic cheers and applause upon hearing the Senator say, “The time is long overdue for us to remove the federal prohibition on marijuana. In my view, states should have the right to regulate marijuana the same way that state and local laws now govern sales of alcohol and tobacco. Among other things, that means that recognized businesses in states that have legalized marijuana should be fully able to use the banking system without fear of federal prosecution.”
Taking the Lead for Marijuana Reform
Of the three remaining Democratic presidential candidates, Senator Sanders, is the first to step up to the plate (or in this case the podium) to take a solid stance on the legalization of marijuana and policy reform. A move that is likely to have a positive impact on his poll numbers and growing popularity as he establishes himself as a true contender in the race, especially among the population of younger voters who are looking to “feel the bern” of his vow for a revolution all the way to the Oval Office.
As impassioned as ever, Senator Sanders used the nation’s alarming statistics to paint a vivid picture of the negative effects felt by hundreds of thousands of people who sit in prison due to the criminalizing of marijuana. This has contributed greatly to the nation’s prisons brimming with inmates serving time for low level drug offenses. The effects of criminalizing marijuana are felt deeply on so many economic, sociological and cultural levels. He said:
“In 2014…there were 620,000 arrests for marijuana possession. That’s one arrest every minute. Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That is wrong. That has got to change. There is a racial component to this situation. Although about the same proportion of blacks and whites use marijuana, a black person is almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. In the United States we have 2.2 million people in jail today, more than any other country. And we’re spending about $80 billion a year to lock people. We need major changes in our criminal justice system – including changes in drug laws. Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That’s wrong. That has got to change.”
What Do Clinton and O’Malley Say About Marijuana Reform?
Hillary Clinton has taken a “wait and see” approach on marijuana legalization. However, she does support criminal justice reform as a means to reduce harsh sentencing for those who are found possessing or distributing marijuana. Failed marijuana drug tests during probation drug testing are a huge factor in driving ex-offendors back to prison, contributing to overcrowding and disrupting communities, even if marijuana has little or no connection to the original crime.
“I think we’re just at the beginning, but I agree completely with the idea that we have got to stop imprisoning people who use marijuana. Therefore we need more states, cities and the federal government to begin to address this,” she said during the first Democratic rebate in early October.
Former governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, has suggested that marijuana should receive a “Schedule 2” drug classification, but has taken no official position on its legalization as of late. He did decriminalize it during his time as governor, however, he was not in favor of its legalization.
It will be interesting to see how Clinton and O’Malley will react to such a forward thinking stance on the great marijuana debate, but only time and poll numbers will really tell us in which direction they will go, as the race to the White House continues.
Views on Marijuana Are Changing
What we do know, though, is that the public’s opinion of marijuana is shifting greatly. 58% of Americans are pro-legalization, per a 2013 Gallup poll, and 80% of Americans staunchly opposed to those with the drug in their possession being sentenced to prison, per a 2014 survey from the Pew Research Center.
“If Sen. Sanders follows through on these comments with legislation, it will be the first time in history that a bill will be introduced in the U.S. Senate to end federal marijuana prohibition,” said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority, a pro-reform group. “Poll after poll shows that a growing majority of Americans support legalization, so it makes sense that elected officials are finally starting to see the value in calling for real and comprehensive changes to failed marijuana laws.”