You may have missed Bernie Sanders’ town hall at Virginia’s George Mason University on Wednesday as the GOP presidential contenders duked it out in Boulder, Colorado. But he made some news. Sanders called for the full decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level, a move that would allow states to regulate the drug the same way they handle alcohol or tobacco. “Right now marijuana is listed by the federal government as a schedule-one drug, meaning that it is considered to be as dangerous as heroin,” Sanders said. “That is absurd.”
Sanders, while touting the possible civic benefits of decriminalization (such as providing a funding stream, through taxation, for treatment of more dangerous substances such as opioids) took pains to frame legalization as a matter of racial justice:
Let us be clear, as is the case in many other areas, that there is a racial component to this situation. Although about the same proportion of blacks and whites use marijuana, a black person is almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records because of marijuana use. That is wrong. That has got to change…A criminal record could include not only time in jail, but a criminal record makes it harder for a person to get a job, harder for a person to get public benefits, harder for a person to even get housing. A criminal record stays with a person for his or her entire life.
The legalization he proposed would also eliminate one of the roadblocks to decriminalization in places such as Washington state or Colorado, by allowing marijuana distributors to use the banking system like any other business.