Bernie Sanders Just Introduced a Historic Marijuana Bill

November 4th 2015

Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill that would end the federal prohibition of marijuana, on Wednesday, following up on a speech he delivered at George Mason University last week. If passed, the measure would remove marijuana from a list of the most dangerous drugs currently outlawed by the U.S. government, and it would allow states to legalize medical or recreational cannabis without federal intervention.

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With public support for legalization at a record high—58 percent of American adults support it, according to a recent Gallup poll—the bill comes at a pivotal time for the legalization movement. While the prospects of the measure passing in congress are uncertain, advocates argue that the move reflects shifting attitudes about marijuana at the federal level. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump have voiced support for state experimentation with legalization.

At George Mason University, Sanders said:

"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 up. 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."

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia already have some form of legal marijuana systems (whether recreational or medical) at the state level, and while Ohio voters rejected a state initiative to legalize on Tuesday, there are at least 16 other states in the U.S. poised to put marijuana on the ballot by 2016. As the movement continues to grow, public perceptions about the substance seem to have changed, with more people advocating for legalization on the basis that non-violent marijuana offenses contribute to the country's mass incarceration problem.

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"As more states legalize marijuana for medical or non-medical use the pressure to change federal law will continue to grow," Bill Piper, director of national affairs at Drug Policy Action said in a statement. "There is a clear bi-partisan majority in Congress for letting states set their own marijuana policies."

Read the full text of the bill here.

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