Bernie Sanders: Let states legalize marijuana


Bernie Sanders called Wednesday for taking marijuana off the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs, allowing states to legalize it without users being subject to federal prosecution.

Speaking from George Mason University in Virginia to 250 student meetings across the country, the Democratic presidential candidate who has drawn huge crowds of college students, said he favors removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances regulated by federal law.

“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,” Sanders said, citing a recent FBI report that someone in the United States is arrested every minute on marijuana charges.

Voters in Washington state and Colorado approved legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but under federal law, marijuana remains a controlled substance, and possession or distribution of the drug is a criminal offense that can result in prison time.

Under Sanders’ proposal, people in states that decide to legalize marijuana would no longer would be subject to federal prosecution for using pot. Owners of stores that sell marijuana could fully participate in the banking system, like any other business, his campaign said.

The move, however, would continue to allow federal law enforcement officials to arrest and prosecute drug dealers for trafficking in marijuana sales, Sanders’ campaign said.

Sanders also pointed to marijuana arrests as an example of disparate treatment of African-Americans by the criminal justice system. His campaign cited an ACLU study that found that although about the same proportion of blacks and whites use marijuana, a black person is almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person.

Sanders remarks came as the Republican presidential debates were underway in Colorado. Sanders got a reference in the first debate -- though not by name -- when Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said he was tired of losing to Democrats.

“Good God, look who we're running against,” Graham said. “The number one candidate on the other side thought she was flat broke after her and her husband were in the White House for eight years. The number two guy went to the Soviet Union on his honeymoon, and I don't think he ever came back. If we don't beat these people...”

Politifact looked at the trip taken by the self-described democratic socialist and found that Sanders and his wife, Jane, did travel to Yaroslavl, a city in the Soviet Union, after their wedding in 1988. But the trip’s primary purpose was diplomacy, not leisure and they refer to it as a honeymoon, sarcastically at times.