Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
The bill, which would remove cannabis from the federal list of dangerous drugs such as heroin, would allow states to prohibit marijuana but would remove federal barriers for ones that want to legalize it for medical and recreational use.
The introduction of the bill follows remarks Sanders made last week, when he said if elected president he would seek to remove marijuana from a list of drugs deemed illegal by the federal government, freeing up states to regulate pot like alcohol or tobacco.
The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act (PDF) is the first Senate bill to propose legalizing recreational marijuana, The Hill reported.
Sanders’ bill would allow the marijuana industry access to banks, which was the subject of legislation proposed in July by Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, both of Colorado where marijuana is legal.
“Sen. Sanders really grabbed the nation’s attention when he became the first major-party presidential candidate to speak out in support of ending marijuana prohibition,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. “His actions today speak even louder than his words last month. … Sen. Sanders is simply proposing that we treat marijuana similarly to how we treat alcohol at the federal level, leaving most of the details to the states. It is a commonsense proposal that is long overdue in the Senate.”
In part, Sander’s bill recognizes that a majority of Americans believe marijuana should be legal, with an Oct. 21 survey showing a steady growth in support for legalization. It also plays to his base — the Gallop poll found younger Americans, Democrats and independents “are the most likely of major demographic and political groups to favor legalizing use of the drug, while Republicans and older Americans are least likely to do so.”
The Democratic presidential candidate last week said the nation's massive prison population and more than 600,000 arrests last year for marijuana possession demand a shift in the country's drug laws. He said the problem has a racial disparity as well — a black person is nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than a white person.
Sanders’ stance on pot sets him apart from Democratic rivals Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley. Clinton has said she wants to see how the legalization of recreational marijuana plays out in states like Colorado and Washington, and when asked recently if she was ready to take a position on marijuana, she said “No,” according to Politico. O'Malley wants to reclassify marijuana under federal drug laws and make it a so-called Schedule 2 drug.
Three states in addition to Colorado have legalized recreational marijuana: Washington, Oregon and Alaska.
On Tuesday, Ohio voters overwhelmingly defeated a proposal to defeat legal marijuana growth and use. Backers of decriminalization joined with anti-drug crusaders because the legalization proposal would have granted an oligopoly on cultivation to a handful of wealthy landowners.