Is Bernie Sanders on board with legalizing not just marijuana but other drugs like cocaine and heroin?
“We need to have an understanding that prohibition against alcohol did not work in the 1920s, and prohibition against marijuana and other drugs is not working today,” he said on Friday. “So it has to be rethought in a very, very fundamental way.”
Decrying the “insanity of this so-called war on drugs,” the independent senator from Vermont said that “if we’re serous about understanding a failed and collapsing criminal justice system, ending the war on drugs is an important part of it.”
He made the comments during a live discussion broadcast on his Facebook page:
Generally decrying the failure of the “war on drugs” is not an uncommon refrain for major politicians these days, but Sanders’s specific reference to the failure of “prohibition” of drugs beyond cannabis suggests that he might be in favor of allowing the use and regulated production of more currently illegal substances.
And it isn’t the first time that the senator, who became the first major presidential candidate to endorse marijuana legalization during his 2016 bid, has appeared to call for the end of prohibition of non-cannabis drugs.
In a 1972 letter, he seemed to endorse broader legalization, writing:
“There are entirely too many laws that regulate human behavior. Let us abolish all laws which attempt to impose a particular brand of morality or ‘right’ on people. Let’s abolish all laws dealing with…drugs…”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who campaigned on a drug policy reform platform and after the election moved to drop pending marijuana cases, was also part of the Facebook discussion with Sanders.
Earlier this year, Sanders launched a petition saying that the “criminal justice system is not the answer to drug abuse,” but it did not explicitly call for drug legalization.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is asking his supporters to pressure Congress to legalize marijuana and end the broader “war on drugs.”
In an email sent to the former (and possibly future) presidential candidate’s campaign e-mail list on Wednesday night, the senator wrote that the federal government’s anti-cannabis approach is “an issue of grave consequence.”
Citing racial disparities in enforcement, Sanders said that “marijuana prohibition is part of a larger failed war on drugs that has led to the great national crisis of mass incarceration.”
He’s asking supporters to sign an online petition calling on federal lawmakers to treat drugs as a health issue instead of a crime and “invest in programs that focus on treatment and prevention.”
Calling the rescheduling of cannabis a “a first step,” he said that marijuana’s current classification in a more restrictive category than cocaine “doesn’t make any sense.”
“Let’s have states decide the issue of marijuana for themselves like they do with alcohol,” he wrote. “More and more states are moving in the direction of decriminalization. Let them make those decisions without federal interference.”
The legislation ended up going nowhere after earning zero co-sponsors.
Sanders hasn’t introduced any new marijuana bills during the current 115th Congress, which began more than a year ago, but he has signed on as a co-sponsor of cannabis banking legislation filed by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
The Vermont senator hasn’t yet co-sponsored a bill Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) filed that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, similar to Sanders’s 114th Congress proposal. The Booker legislation goes even further by withholding funding from states with racially discriminatory cannabis enforcement.
In addition to Sanders, other potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) are signed on to the banking bill. Warren and potential presidential contender Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are also co-sponsors of a separate comprehensive medical cannabis bill that Booker, himself a rumored 2020 candidate, introduced.
Read the full text of Sanders’s marijuana e-mail below:
I am writing you about an issue of grave consequence that affects the lives of millions of Americans and greatly impacts our democracy – namely the continued federal prohibition on marijuana and the need for reform of our criminal justice system.
As you know, a number of states (including my state of Vermont) have decriminalized or legalized the possession, use and sale of marijuana in recent years. Under the Obama Administration, the Justice Department took no action against these states or the people in those states. However, the Trump Administration has taken a very different stance with Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatening to prosecute. That would be a huge mistake and move us in exactly the wrong direction.
Millions of Americans have had their lives impacted by the federal prohibition on marijuana – arrests, convictions and even jail time. Even when people don’t go to jail, the criminal record they receive makes it harder for them to find a job, get housing or go to college. Is this a widespread problem? It sure is. In 2016 alone, over half a million people were arrested for marijuana possession.
These harmful impacts are felt far more acutely in communities of color and poor communities because enforcement of marijuana laws is much stricter there than in more affluent, white communities. Incredibly, African Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana even though marijuana usage rates are basically the same across racial lines.
Of course, marijuana prohibition is part of a larger failed war on drugs that has led to the great national crisis of mass incarceration. Some 1.5 million people were arrested for a drug related offense in 2016 – over 80 percent of which were for possession alone. We need to stop criminalizing addiction. We need to stop criminalizing recreational marijuana use.
The criminal justice system is not the answer to drug abuse. Addiction is a health problem and we should start treating it that way. While communities all across the country lack adequate resources for treatment or prevention, we are spending approximately $50 billion a year on the war on drugs. That’s absurd. We need to get our priorities right.
This so-called war on drugs has led us to have over 2 million people in prison – disproportionately poor and from communities of color. Our incarceration rate is the highest in the world – higher even than authoritarian countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.
Further, what is not often discussed is how the war on drugs and mass incarceration is impacting the essence of our democracy. People with felony convictions cannot vote in many states. Today, for that reason alone, over 6 million Americans are denied access to the ballot.
Uneven enforcement and the fact that people of color receive longer sentences for the same offenses than white defendants means more felony convictions in those communities. And that means – surprise, surprise – fewer voters.
In other words, the war on drugs is robbing those minority and lower income communities of their political power. In Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee over 20 percent of voting age African Americans are disenfranchised because of felony convictions. It’s not too hard to figure out what’s going on here. The communities most impacted by these policies are systematically stripped of their ability in our democratic system to politically fight back.
Why hasn’t something been done to fix this problem? You know the reason. The sad truth is that some politicians benefit from people not being able to vote. All too often these are the same politicians who are trying to disenfranchise voters in other ways, such as restrictive voter ID laws or extreme gerrymandering.
This has got to change.
We need the highest voter turnout in the world, not the highest incarceration rate. We need to provide treatment for people with substance abuse problems, not lock them up.
As a first step, we need to remove marijuana from Category 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act where it is currently ranked alongside drugs like heroin. In fact, marijuana is classified more harshly than cocaine. That doesn’t make any sense.
Let’s have states decide the issue of marijuana for themselves like they do with alcohol. More and more states are moving in the direction of decriminalization. Let them make those decisions without federal interference.
Let’s invest in the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.
Let’s reform our criminal laws and take other steps to dismantle mass incarceration. Among other steps forward we need to ban private prisons and create new federal policing standards.
Let’s restore the voting rights of all Americans.
If you share my goal of making these important reforms please sign this petition:
Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has previously suggested he would end prohibition of marijuana. should he be elected. At a rally in Puerto Rico on Monday, Sanders answered an audience’s question: “Would you legalize marijuana?”
He responded in the affirmative: “Si. You see, my Spanish is good enough to know that word.”
Sanders has been clear on his position regarding the Controlled Substances Act, which ranks cannabis in the same category as heroin. He reiterated this to the crowd in Puerto Rico.
“We’ve got marijuana and heroin together, that’s pretty crazy to my mind,” he said.
His views on the failings of the War on Drugs have also been voiced in October 2015.
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.”
Sanders has focused on the failures of the War on Drugs as a reason to legalize cannabis.
Presidential candidates running for office in 2016 have been more vocal about cannabis legalization than ever before, regardless of their position.
Hillary Clinton has stated she would consider rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance, but seems to think no research has been done on the benefits of cannabis, despite plenty of evidence indicating otherwise. She may be unaware that significant research is being conducted in other countries.
“…the problem with medical marijuana is there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence about how well it works for certain conditions, but we haven’t done any research. Why? Because it’s considered what’s called a Schedule I drug and you can’t even do research in it.”
While Clinton can be labeled as a weak ally in the legalization movement, Republican candidate Donald Trump has more or less supported medical marijuana.
“I know people that have serious problems… and… it really, really does help them,”
he said to Bill O’Reilly.
Sanders is an example of the growing support for cannabis legalization that has nothing to do with personal use and more to do with public safety, public health and the mass incarceration of U.S. citizens for minor drug crimes.
“I’ve done marijuana twice in my life when I was very young. And what it did for me is it made me cough a lot. That was my response. But I gather other people have had different experiences.”
Sanders used his experiences to illustrate the misplaced logic behind the Controlled Substances Act. Marijuana is ranked alongside heroin as a Schedule I substance, which indicates the law views marijuana as highly addictive and of no medicinal value.
While he isn’t a current cannabis consumer, Sanders does not agree that it should remain classified as a Schedule I substance. In his address to supporters in Michigan, he exclaimed:
“Everybody here know and I know that heroin is a killer drug, and we need to stay away from heroin. And we ned to do everything we can to make sure our kids don’t get addicted to heroin. We also know, and people can argue this ’til the cows come home and scientists dispute it, marijuana is not heroin. I’m not here advocating for marijuana. I’ve done marijuana twice in my life when I was very young. And what it did for me is it made me cough a lot. That was my response. But I gather other people have had different experiences, I don’t know. Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug alongside of heroin. (The audience booed.) I agree, and that is why I believe we should take marijuana out of the federal Controlled Substances Act.”
This candid admittance has gained the attention of Stephen Colbert who did a comical bit about it on The Late Show, which you can watch here:
Sanders’ Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton supports a rescheduling of marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance to allow for further research, but leaders of the marijuana legalization community insist this would be a formality rather than true reform.
“The rescheduling of marijuana is a step in the right direction, but only going down to Schedule 2 is mostly a symbolic move,”
“It may make research slightly easier, but on its own wouldn’t do anything to protect seriously ill people who are using marijuana in accordance with state laws from being harassed by the DEA. Only changing the federal criminal statutes can effectively do that.”
Should Sanders be elected, he would be the 12th president known to have tried cannabis. While on the campaign trail in 2006, President Barack Obama commented on his use of marijuana as an adolescent, “When I was a kid, I inhaled frequently. That was the point.”
In a historical move on Wednesday Nov. 4, Bernie Sanders introduced legislation to the Senate to remove cannabis from federal scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. This is the first time a bill to end federal cannabis prohibition has been filed in the United States Senate.
The legislation, cited as ‘‘Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015,” would remove cannabis from it’s current Schedule I status, and repeal certain cannabis related penalties. The bill amends the Controlled Substances Act to be void of “marihuana” and ‘‘tetrahydrocannabinols.’’ This means that cannabis and all derived concentrates would no longer be classified as having no medicinal value in the United States. This would leave it up to each individual state to choose whether or not to legalize without intervention from the federal government.
Should the legislation introduced by Sen. Sanders be approved, shipping and transporting cannabis would remain illegal. Anyone caught illegally transporting would face up to one year in prison and fines.
Veteran activist and founder of Marijuana Majority, Tom Angell, pointed out that the introduction of this legislation proves that the rejection of the legalization initiative, Issue 3, by Ohio voters on Tuesday had nothing to do with the overall support for cannabis policy reform in America.
“The introduction of this bill proves that the defeat of the Ohio marijuana monopoly measure that wasn’t widely supported in our movement isn’t doing anything to slow down our national momentum.”
“This is the first time a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. A growing majority of Americans want states to be able to enact their own marijuana laws without harassment from the DEA, and lawmakers should listen.”
The most recent Gallup Poll showed that the majority of American voters support ending cannabis prohibition in the United States with 58 percent of participants responding that the use of marijuana should be legal.