Bernie Sanders claims to have never been a stoner, but he’s becoming one of the best friends potheads have in the nation’s capital.
The presidential candidate is introducing a bill in the Senate today that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana.
But this isn’t his attempt to turn America into Amsterdam.
The legislation simply removes weed from the list of controlled substances—which includes acid, coke, ecstasy, PCP, and heroin.
“It is absurd that it is compared to, or treated, the same way as heroin is,” Sen. Sanders told The Daily Beast in the Capitol.
This sets Sanders apart from other the presidential candidates who give lip service to relaxing marijuana laws, but who have failed to offer concrete proposals. Republican candidates Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, and Jeb Bush are all basically in agreement with the thrust of Sanders’s bill, and so is his main rival, Hillary Clinton, though her real position is hard to peg.
In the Las Vegas debate, Clinton twisted herself in knots on the topic.
“We have got to stop imprisoning people who use marijuana,” Clinton argued. But she also said she wasn’t ready to take a stance on allowing marijuana for recreational use. Her campaign didn’t respond to requests for a comment on Sanders’s bill.
Sanders wants to codify what the others are saying on the trail.
His legislation is basically Federalism 101 (only federalism on pot, instead of the booze our forefathers were on). Under it, if a state decides they want marijuana to be regulated like alcohol—as four states and the District of Columbia have done—or if a state opts to allow it for medicinal purposes—as 23 states, along with D.C., have done—then they're free from the federal penalties in place for marijuana possession.
The bill prohibits transporting marijuana (though throughout the bill it’s called “marihuana” because lawmakers seem to have been a tad racist when they penned the Controlled Substance Act in 1970 and they wanted marijuana to sound more exotic or something like that, hence the Latino sounding ‘h’. Silly Congress) across state lines, but it would remove the dagger hanging over casual smokers, medicinal users and marijuana business owners in states that have voted to buck the federal prohibition of pot.
But Sanders bill only still only mellows the law. He isn’t pushing for legalizing weed at the federal level; he merely wants to unclog federal prisons. While he admits he toked up a couple of times in his youth, he maintains he never got high (poor guy). But he was also never dragged off in a cop car for having a bag of weed on him. He never had an embarrassing mugshot taken that would have haunted him in his race for the White House. He never had his record smeared for life; as tens of thousands of Americans have gone through for doing the same thing as the Democratic presidential candidate.
“When you get a criminal record this has a huge impact on your entire life. It impacts your ability to have a job. It impacts your ability to get federal programs. It impacts your ability, in some cases, to get housing,” Sanders said before he unleashed on the war on drug lists. “I think it has caused devastating problems for many people and I think it’s something that should be rethought.”
Sanders brushed aside a question on whether his new effort is in response to the pressure he’s received from the Black Lives Matter movement.
“No,” Sanders told The Daily Beast. “Our goal is to have a criminal justice system which punishes and imprisons people who are violent and dangerous, but does not destroy millions of lives of other people.”
Sanders isn’t alone.
While Vermont’s junior senator was walking through the Capitol on his way to a vote, he passed by former Republican presidential nominee John McCain. “Hey, people keep asking why I like you,” McCain quipped to Sanders. “I can’t give an answer. I can’t figure out an answer. It’s an admiration…”
“It’s the old man’s caucus; that’s why,” Sanders responded as he buried his flailing silver locks in McCain’s chest. Two of the members of the “old man’s caucus” may not be so out of touch with their young voters. The Daily Beast asked McCain what he thought of the premise of Sander’s new marijuana bill.
“Yeah, I’d like to see it being a state issue,” McCain said. “I’d like to have the citizens of Arizona make the decision, and, from what I hear, the polling data is that they’re in favor of it. I’m not.”
While being open to legalized weed in his home state, McCain also categorizes pot as a “gateway drug.” That’s where he and Sanders don’t see eye to eye.
“You want to talk about pathway drugs?” Sanders told The Daily Beast before unleashing on the characterization of marijuana as the boogeyman. “I think every study that I have seen tells me that opiates are a far more significant pathway drug to heroin. Heroin is an epidemic. It is a huge issue and it’s something that we’ve got to address and I think we begin to address it by understanding that many people are today getting hooked on opiates.”
In redirecting the war on drugs Sanders is first focusing on marijuana. But he says it can’t stop there.
“Clearly what we are talking about is beginning to treat addiction as an illness and not a crime,” Sanders said. “If people are addicted and want to get off it they need treatment regardless of their income. We need to do a lot better job in terms of prevention, we’ve got to deal with the opiate crisis where there is so many of these painkillers, strong painkillers, around that are falling into the hands of people who should not be having them.”