Bernie Sanders has a chance to make history in 2016, and not just by winning the presidential election.
Sanders is poised to make some giant leaps toward ending the prohibition of marijuana, which has long been an aim of the left-leaning Vermont Senator. His plan could do more than simply legalize the drug, but instead open it up for important medical research and create a true marijuana industry in the United States.
Throughout his campaign, Sanders has called for the federal government to move marijuana off the schedule of illegal drugs, and wants other states to follow in the footsteps of Colorado, which has found that legalizing and taxing marijuana is good for business in the state.
“The time is long overdue for us to take marijuana off the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs,” he said late last month, via The Atlantic. “In my view, states should have the right to regulate marijuana the same way that state and local laws now govern sales of alcohol and tobacco.”
Now Bernie Sanders is being even more direct in his call to end the criminalization of marijuana. At a rally this weekend, he vowed to take the drug off the Federal Controlled Substance Act entirely.
— Pittsburgh 4 Bernie (@PittsBern) January 2, 2016
While Bernie Sanders is not the only one calling for laws regarding marijuana to be loosened — Republican Rand Paul also wants to end the ban on medical marijuana, and Hillary Clinton has hinted toward taking it off the schedule of illegal substances — Sanders has staked the most clear and concise stance on the matter.
That is why a Bernie Sanders victory could do more for marijuana legalization than any of the steps taken so far. Even in states like Colorado, where the drug is now fully legal and even part of a major tourism push, the marijuana business has yet to fully bloom due to restrictive federal laws.
— Tracy Vanity (@TracyVanity) December 22, 2015
— The Progressive Mind (@Libertea2012) December 22, 2015
As the Washington Post‘s Christopher Ingraham wrote, companies that grow and distribute marijuana are finding that banks are reluctant to deal with them. These banks are afraid of violating federal laws, meaning the businesses are stuck holding onto large amounts of cash and are ripe targets for robbery.
Forbes noted that 2016 is shaping up to be the biggest step forward for marijuana nationwide, even bigger than 2015 when four states and the District of Columbia legalized recreational marijuana and several more states decriminalized it.
In Congress, there is a bi-partisan bill that would allow states to more easily legalize medical marijuana and re-schedule it as a schedule II drug. This would knock down barriers to researching marijuana’s medicinal uses and allow banks to do business with marijuana companies.
As the report noted, Bernie Sanders has sponsored a slew of bills that would end marijuana prohibition, make it easier for states to legalize the drug, and give a clean slate for people with marijuana arrests.
Removing federal restrictions could also help medical researchers better understand the benefits of marijuana. Already the drug is an effective tool for fighting a number of conditions, including epilepsy, and some medical experts believe it can do much more if researchers were able to fully understand it.
Of course, Bernie Sanders still has quite a mountain to climb before he can move marijuana legalization forward. He first has to overcome a large deficit from front runner Hillary Clinton, and his stronger stances on marijuana may win him support with younger voters, but this is an area where he already polls quite well, and with a group that doesn’t traditionally turn out to the polls. But even if he doesn’t win, Bernie Sanders may be able to push the issue of marijuana legalization more to the forefront, or at least force Hillary Clinton to take a stronger stand on the issue to win Sanders’s voters over for the general election.
[Picture by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]