FAIRFAX, VA — While much of the nation was tuned into the third GOP debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) held a town hall at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia to announce a major proposal to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level — by taking it off the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs. He will introduce a bill in the Senate as soon as this week that would achieve this.
“Our criminal justice system is broken and we need major changes in that system, including changes in drug laws,” Sanders told the roaring crowd of hundreds of students. “Too many Americans have had their lives destroyed because they have a criminal record for marijuana use. That is wrong and that needs to change.”
Citing data that one person is arrested every minute in the U.S. just for possession of marijuana, the vast majority of them people of color, Sanders said his proposal would address many problems at once: from racial disparities to an exploding prison population.
“I will not be the president of a country that has more people in jail than any other country,” he said. “States should have the right to regulate marijuana the same way they do alcohol and tobacco.”
The policy proposal would not make marijuana legal everywhere in the United States, but it would allow states to be able to legalize without interference from Washington, would make medical research easier, and would make allow the burgeoning weed industry to use the banking system and qualify for tax incentives.
Currently, marijuana is classified in the same class of extremely dangerous drugs as heroin and cocaine. Sanders called this “absurd” during his Wednesday night town hall. This category that requires the drugs to have no medically accepted use and a “high potential for abuse.” This classification has continued despite widespread use of the plant to ease pain for patients suffering from everything from PTSD to cancer, and despite decades of evidence that cannabis use among teenagers does not increase in states that legalized medical marijuana.
Sanders’ main rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, has said she would like to “wait and see” how legalization has worked in the handful of U.S. states that have voted for it before taking action on a national level. She has also referred to marijuana as a “gateway drug” in interviews and called for more studies on the issue. However, in the last debate, she seemed to soften her stance, saying, “I agree completely with the idea that we have to stop imprisoning people who use marijuana.”