Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is embracing marijuana reform in a move that could help him win over pot-smoking voters. The Vermont senator said Wednesday he would call for marijuana to be removed from the Drug Enforcement Administration's schedule of controlled substances.
A federal policy shift would allow states to choose their own marijuana policies free of most federal interference. The DEA classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug on the asumption that it has a high potential for abuse. It's regulated more tightly than other drugs that do much more harm, including cocaine, opium and methamphetamines.
"The time is long overdue for us to take marijuana off the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs," Sanders said in prepared remarks given to the Washington Post by his campaign. "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."
Under Sanders' policy, the DEA would stop raiding marijuana businesses in any state where they are pot. Marijuana businesses would be allowed to use financial services. Most legal marijuana businesses are now cash-only because they can't use banks.
“Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use,” Sanders plans to say at a live-streamed town hall with college students Wednesday evening, according to the prepared text. “That’s wrong. That has got to change.”
Many voters support making marijuana policy a state issue, including some Republicans who tend to lean conservative on drug policies.
Sanders has previously made his support for more relaxed marijuana policies known. “I am not unfavorably disposed to moving toward the legalization of marijuana,” Sanders said on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” recently. “We have more people in jail today than any other country on Earth. We have large numbers of lives that have been destroyed because of this war on drugs, and because people were caught smoking marijuana and so forth. I think we have got to end the war on drugs.”
Sanders is trailing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Democratic polls.