Bernie Sanders Says He Would End Marijuana Prohibition

Jeremy Laukkonen

Bernie Sanders wants the federal government to get out of the marijuana prohibition business, and if elected president, the Vermont senator vows that he will make it happen.

In a town hall-style meeting with college students at George Mason University on Wednesday, Sanders shared a proposal that would end marijuana prohibition in the United States. The proposal wouldn't legalize the substance, but it would remove marijuana from the federal government's list of the most dangerous drugs.

"Right now, marijuana is listed, by the federal government, meaning that it is considered to be as dangerous as heroin," Sanders said at the town meeting.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, that makes marijuana more dangerous, and less medically useful, than substances like crystal meth and crack cocaine, which are classified as Schedule 2 drugs.

And according to Bernie Sanders, it's time to end that.

"In my view, the time is long overdue for us to remove the federal prohibition on marijuana," Sanders told the assembled college students to great applause. "In my view, states should have the right to regulate marijuana the same way that state and local laws now govern the sale of alcohol and tobacco."

The Washington Post reports that this is the first time a major presidential candidate has ever supported a total repeal of marijuana prohibition.

Minor candidates from fringe parties have supported marijuana in the past, President Obama ran on a platform of not prosecuting non-violent marijuana offenses, and current Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O'Malley supports moving marijuana from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2, where it would share the same status as crack cocaine and crystal meth.

By removing marijuana from Schedule 1, and not placing it on any other Schedule, Sanders would effectively end marijuana prohibition on the part of the federal government. However, that wouldn't be the same as legalizing it nation-wide. In the same way that states are able to regulate other substances, like alcohol and cigarettes, marijuana prohibition could be instituted on the state level.

Although a number of states have medical marijuana laws, and Oregon, Washington, and Colorado have totally legalized the substance, it seems likely that many states would enact their own much stricter controls. For instance, as previously reported by Inquisitr, Nebraska and Oklahoma have sued Colorado over its marijuana laws, claiming that the end of marijuana prohibition in Colorado has created a cross-border nuisance.

The other change is that marijuana businesses would no longer be shut out of the banking system. Under current laws, banks and credit card processors are often wary of dealing with marijuana businesses since doing so could result in federal prosecution and seizure of assets.

Bernie Sanders' support for marijuana legalization is just one of the reasons that he leads Hillary Clinton in polls of young voters. According to the Washington Post, Clinton has taken an even stronger stance on Marijuana than O'Malley, saying that she prefers to wait to see how the situation works out in Washington and Colorado before she commits to a position.

For Sanders, the pledge to legalize marijana represents a pivot from the position that he used to hold. According to MSNBC, Sanders referred to marijuana as a "gateway drug" early this year, saying that it could lead to heroin and cocaine use.

Even if he does take the Democratic nomination from Hillary, and manages to beat the Republican candidate in the general election, President Bernie Sanders would likely have to contend with an anti-marijuana Republican-controlled Congress. That's a lot of conditions, but whatever happens, Sanders will remain the first presidential candidate to come out in favor of legalizing marijuana.

[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]