By Marguerite Arnold
During the Democratic presidential debates on Oct. 13, 2015, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., became the second major party candidate, after Rand Paul on the Republican side, to endorse marijuana legalization. He is also now the first major party candidate on either side of the aisle, to endorse recreational reform at the federal level specifically.
The statement was immediately met with support from the major advocacy organizations. According to Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, “This marks the first time a major-party presidential candidate has clearly expressed support for ending marijuana prohibition and regulating marijuana like alcohol. The people have typically led the politicians on this issue, and finally we’re seeing a presidential candidate who appears to have caught up with them.”
The topic arose when Sanders was asked during the debate whether he would support an upcoming ballot initiative in Nevada to legalize recreational use and Sanders answered in the affirmative. Vermont, his home state, has consistently led at least the East Coast on implementing not only recreational reform, but it may become the first state in the country to legalize recreational use via the actions of the state legislature.
“I suspect I would vote yes. And I would vote yes because I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for non-violent offenses. We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away and yet we are imprisoning or giving jail sentences to young people who are smoking marijuana,” he said. “I think we have to think through this war on drugs, which has done an enormous amount of damage. We need to rethink our criminal justice system and we’ve got a lot of work to do in that area.”
In contrast, however, Hillary Clinton continued to sit on the sidelines of “maybe,” a stance which has won her few friends within either the legalization advocacy or marijuana business community since 2008 when she was faced again with an issue her husband’s presidency repeatedly botched or dropped. California first passed its medical law in 1996 during the re-election campaign of Bill Clinton only to have the president extend draconian drug testing mandates to all federal jobs as well as welfare recipients.
“Legalization has been a huge success in Colorado so far and Hillary still needs more information?” said Kyle Sherman, the CEO of Flowhub. “In the end, cannabis will be legalized nationwide. I’m not sure when it’s going to happen but the proof is in the pudding. Legalization is working, I see it working every day. I hope if Hillary is serious about the Presidency she’ll take a more honest look at how things are truly working on the ground in Colorado. The facts are the facts and the fact is legalization is working really well in Colorado.”
The other three candidates in the debate, Lincoln Chafee, Martin O’Malley, and Jim Webb, were not given the opportunity to answer questions regarding marijuana policy.