Is Bernie Sanders Progressive About Legal Weed?

by Kim Lyons

The issue of marijuana legalization will likely be front and center for presidential candidates in 2016, and with fewer and fewer states barring all marijuana use, it makes the possibility of a national law more likely. Many believe Vermont could be the next state to decriminalize marijuana use, according to The Huffington Post. The home state of newly-declared presidential candidate Bernie Sanders already allows marijuana for medical use, and has reduced possession of small amount of pot to a civil infraction, barely on the same level as a parking ticket.

In an interview with Time magazine last year, Sanders said he supported medical marijuana use, and admitted to smoking pot when he was younger. He expressed some concerns about legalizing pot for recreational users, but is on board with medical uses. The war on drugs, Sanders told Time, has put a lot of non-violent offenders in jail, while not focusing enough resources on the epidemic of heroin use and other such dangerous drugs.

I have real concerns about implications of the war on drugs. We have been engaged in it for decades now with a huge cost and the destruction of a whole lot of lives of people who were never involved in any violent activities.
Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

However, in the same Time magazine interview, Sanders said he did not see marijuana decriminalization as a "one of the major issues facing our country." It is no doubt a controversial issue for many still, and Hillary Clinton has yet to make her position clear. She told CNN in 2014 she wanted to examine how effective state laws were before she decided what action, if any, should be taken at the federal level. The Republican candidates who have announced they will seek their party's nomination have mixed opinions on decriminalizing marijuana. Rand Paul has said he supports decriminalization, and wants to see medical marijuana restrictions relaxed, and Ted Cruz admitted to toking up as a teenager.

For his part, Sanders represents one of the more socially liberal states in the country among other things; Vermont was the first to legalize same-sex unions. If Vermont's SB 95 passed, anyone 21 or older could possess up to an ounce of marijuana in Vermont, and would be allowed to grow a small number of plants for personal use. It will be interesting to see how much Sanders campaigns on the policies in effect in his home state. It's likely he'll be touting Vermont's record on marriage equality, and might be able to add legalizing marijuana as a campaign tactic before long.

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