Bernie Sanders Just Made a Radical Move on Marijuana

October 28th 2015

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders became the first presidential candidate to call for the rescheduling of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act on Wednesday. Rescheduling marijuana would open the drug to research and potentially recreational use, which is illegal under current law.

Bernie SandersAP Photo/Carolyn Kaster - apimages.com

This is a big deal.

At a town hall held at George Mason University, Sanders said it was high time that the federal government remove cannabis from a list of the most dangerous drugs currently outlawed in America. With this position, Sanders has established himself as having the most progressive stance on marijuana of all the candidates in either party.

"In my view, the time is long overdue for us to remove the federal prohibition on marijuana," Sanders said. "In my view, states should have the right to regulate marijuana the same way that state and local laws now govern the sale of alcohol and tobacco. And 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."

"In the year 2015, it is time for the federal government to allow states to go forward as they best choose. It is time to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. It is time to end the arrests of so many people...for possessing marijuana," he added.

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For more than 40 years, the substance has remained Schedule 1 under federal law, meaning that the government considers cannabis as dangerous and addictive as drugs such as heroin and meth. But research has shown that this is not the case; marijuana is non-toxic and has been shown to have a range of health benefits. Under its current classification, however, researchers have been largely prevented from exploring these possibilities.

Sanders said he plans to introduce a bill into the Senate calling for the rescheduling of marijuana, which would be an unprecedented move. Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley has said that he'd put the substance at Schedule 2—a less severe category—but no presidential candidate has gone so far as to advocate for its removal from the Controlled Substances Act entirely.

"Sanders's plan would not automatically make marijuana legal nationwide, but states would be allowed to regulate the drug in the same way that state and local laws now govern sales of alcohol and tobacco," the Washington Post reported. "And people who use marijuana in states that legalize it would no longer be at risk of federal prosecution."

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At the first Democratic primary debate, Sanders voiced his support for marijuana legalization, arguing that the prohibition of pot has contributed to the country's mass incarceration problems. According to FBI data, someone is arrested for a marijuana-related offense every 45 seconds in the U.S.

"I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for non-violent offenses," Sanders said. "I think we have to think through this War on Drugs, which has done an enormous amount of damage. We need to rethink our criminal justice system.

The timing of Sanders' announcement seems especially appropriate in light of a recent Gallup Poll showing that a resounding 58 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana.

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