Bernie Sanders wants to make it easier for Americans to burn one down. The presidential candidate introduced new legislation in the US Senate on Wednesday that would lift the federal ban on marijuana, allowing states to decide how to regulate the drug.
The Vermont Senator, who currently trails Hillary Clinton in the polls for the Democratic nomination, is calling for weed to be removed from the Controlled Substances Act, the law that governs US drug policy. Pot is currently listed as a Schedule I controlled substance, alongside heroin, LSD, and other narcotics that the federal government says have no accepted medical use and a high risk of abuse. Marijuana activists have been calling for years for marijuana to be "de-scheduled," but Sanders is the first federal lawmaker to actually propose it.
Sanders vowed last week in a speech to students at George Washington University that he would take steps to legalize marijuana, citing the impact that criminalization of the drug has had on mass incarceration. "We need major changes in our criminal justice system — including changes in drug laws," Sanders said. "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."
Voters in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, DC have already approved measures to legalize recreational marijuana, and some form of medical marijuana is currently legal in 23 states. Still, more than 700,000 people were arrested last year in the US for marijuana offenses. Federal laws also make it extremely difficult for weed-related businesses in states were the drug is legal to use banks.
Neill Franklin, a retired police commander and the executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, praised Sanders for taking action to end marijuana prohibition and reduce the number of non-violent offenders caught up in the criminal justice system.
"Many legislators and citizens are still hesitant to move forward with marijuana legalization initiatives in their home states because of the federal ban, which may contradict state law, making both laws difficult to follow or enforce, and making banking transactions all but impossible," Franklin said in a statement.
Under the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015 introduced by Sanders, marijuana laws would still vary state to state. It would also still be illegal to ship weed from a state where the drug is legal to another one where it is outlawed.
Though a recent Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans support legal weed, nearly every other presidential candidate has either spoken out against legalization or called for proceeding with caution when it comes to changing the law. Clinton has stopped short of calling for marijuana to be legalized or decriminalized, saying more research ought to be done into its medical benefits.
Among Republicans, only Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has spoken out in favor of legalization. Earlier this year, Paul co-sponsored the CARERS Act, a comprehensive medical marijuana legalization bill. Two other laws have been introduced in the Senate to address the tax status of marijuana businesses and allow state-legal marijuana businesses to access to banking services.
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