Criminal justice reform is emerging as a key issue up and down the ballot in the 2016 election as Americans of all backgrounds force the political establishment to pursue serious alternatives to mass incarceration. Marijuana prohibition is creating an unparalleled opportunity for White House hopefuls to draw contrasts with each other and build support across the political spectrum for commonsense reform.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders set the new gold standard among 2016 presidential contenders Wednesday by introducing the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. The landmark legislation would remove marijuana from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of controlled substances, allowing states to decide for themselves how to regulate it. Sanders’ bill builds on legislation introduced previously in the House of Representatives by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO).
“Just as alcohol prohibition failed in the 1920s, it’s clear marijuana prohibition is failing today,” Polis said in a statement . “For decades, the federal ban on marijuana has wasted tax dollars, impeded our criminal justice system, lined the pockets of drug cartels, and trampled on states’ ability to set their own public health laws.”
Sanders’ legislation is a shot across the bow for friends and foes alike. Just last week, Sanders criticized Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s new criminal justice platform for its failure to support an end to marijuana prohibition.
“When we talk about criminal justice reform, we also need to understand that millions of people have been arrested for using marijuana,” said Sanders. “We must recognize that blacks are four times more likely than whites to get arrested for marijuana possession, even though the same proportion of blacks and whites use marijuana. Any serious criminal justice reform must include removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.”
Republican heavyweight Donald Trump was questioned about his stance on the federal pot ban last week at a campaign event in Nevada. Trump reiterated his support for medical marijuana and suggested that policymakers should “leave it up to the states” on legalization. Much like Clinton, Trump suggested waiting for more research before he could back legalized cannabis.
Although Trump hasn’t endorsed a repeal of the federal pot ban, Reason’s Jacob Sullum argues that Sanders’ proposal is the logical conclusion of Trump’s position. While states are moving forward with their own legislation and ballot initiatives, they continue to face harassment from the federal government and lack access to the banking system. In other words, the states can’t truly do what Trump wants until the federal ban has been repealed.
Perhaps Trump was creating space for his own position on marijuana to evolve. And as the race for 2016 heats up, he would be wise to do so.
Several polls have shown Trump facing pressure to distinguish himself from insurgent candidate Ben Carson. Carson recently told conservative commentator Glenn Beck that he would “intensify” the Drug War if elected president, which would only cram more nonviolent offenders in prison and expand profits for violent drug cartels.
Trump knows which way the wind’s blowing on marijuana prohibition. A recent Gallup poll confirms that a rising majority of Americans — now 58% — support full legalization. Trump ought to stand with Sanders and the American people against Clinton and Carson’s failed prohibition politics.
– Zack Pesavento is the President of 420 USA.