In a much anticipated New York debate, Democratic presidential primary candidate Bernie Sanders renews need to legalize marijuana as essential to reforming our economy and judicial system.
We are just 3 months away from the Democratic National Convention in late July, but we are no closer it seems to having a clear cut nominee. Each debate has been a chance to draw a distinction between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, but as we near the end, the race is as tight as ever.
There have been a number of controversial topics that the candidates have wrangled over during the debates – Wall Street reform, race relations, health care, campaign finance reform – but over the past several years, none of these issues has seen as explosive a rise in popularity as the legalization of marijuana.
During the recent New York debate, Sanders called out opponent Hillary Clinton for supporting her husband’s omnibus crime bill, which contained minimum sentencing outlines for drug offenders, a bill even President Clinton admits made crime rates in this country worse.
“Too many lives have been destroyed because people have possessed marijuana, millions over a 30 year period, which is why I believe we should take marijuana out of the federal controlled substance act,” Sanders argued during the debate. Hillary was quick to change the subject to childhood education.
Throughout the 2016 democratic primary race, Sanders has mentioned the monumental failures of the U.S. drug policy, especially within the context of marijuana. These failings include a disproportionately African-American jail population, unfair sentencing for non-violent cannabis criminals, and over a trillion dollars wasted fighting a losing drug war. Sanders favors a policy of addiction treatment over punishment and sees cannabis abuse as a health issue, not a social one.
Bernie Sanders has done more than just talk about change to our nation’s drug policy, though. In recent years, he has co-sponsored bills that would defend state’s rights to legalize medical marijuana programs and exclude hemp from the definition of marijuana.
In November of 2015, Sanders took his biggest step in support of legal cannabis when he introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015 to essentially strike cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. This marks the first bill introduced into the U.S. Senate to end prohibition.
Although none of Sanders’ colleagues have signed on to cosponsor the bill and it’s not likely to ever become law, it is a remarkable attempt by Bernie Sanders to enact the change he’s been pushing for through his speeches and during the debates.
For her part, Hillary Clinton has come out in favor of rescheduling marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II. Although this step would ease restrictions on the research of cannabis, it would do little to help guarantee a patient’s right to access and possess their medical marijuana or further the effort of legalizing the recreational market.
As long as cannabis remains federally illegal, violent gangs and cartels will continue to exert control over marijuana’s black market and non-violent criminals will continue to spend their lives in jail for an innocuous plant. Until then, Bernie Sanders doesn’t plan to stop talking about legalizing cannabis.