During an address at George Mason University on Wednesday night, Senator Bernie Sanders said he supports removing marijuana from the list of drugs outlawed by the federal government, letting states decide their own drug policies. “In the United States we have 2.2 million people in jail today, more than any other country. And we’re spending about $80 billion a year to lock people up. We need major changes in our criminal justice system – including changes in drug laws,” Sanders said according to emailed statement from his campaign.
“Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That’s wrong. That has got to change."
In states where marijuana is legal, individual users would not be subject to federal prosecution and marijuana stores could participate in the banking system. Sales of marijuana would be similar to those of alcohol and cigarettes. Earlier this year, Sanders was not willing to comment on legalization and rather wanted to wait and see how states like Colorado functioned before making a final decision.
The Marijuana Majority, an organization which supports reform for the drug, told the Daily Beast that Sanders' plan would be historic.
"If Sen. Sanders follows through on these comments with legislation, it will be the first time in history that a bill will be introduced in the U.S. Senate to end federal marijuana prohibition," Chairman Tom Angell said. "Poll after poll shows that a growing majority of Americans support legalization, so it makes sense that elected officials are finally starting to see the value in calling for real and comprehensive changes to failed marijuana laws."
The group does not however make formal endorsements of candidates.
The Daily Beast asked Sanders' campaign what compelled him to change his mind now and they've yet to respond.