Senator Bernie Sanders. (photo: berniesanders.com)
29 October 15
iting a recent FBI report that someone in the United States is arrested every minute on marijuana charges, Sen. Bernie Sanders told a nationwide meeting of college students on Wednesday that he would take marijuana off the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs.
Speaking from George Mason University to 250 online student meetings in all 50 states, Sanders said he favors removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances regulated by federal law.
“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.
“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,” he added. Under the senator’s proposal, people in states which legalize marijuana no longer would be subject to federal prosecution for using pot. Owners of stores that sell marijuana could fully participate in the banking system, like any other business.
States which want to regulate marijuana would remain free to do so the same way local laws now govern sales of alcohol and tobacco. Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, would continue to allow federal law enforcement officials to arrest and prosecute drug dealers for trafficking in marijuana sales.
Highlighting the proposal as part of a criminal justice reform agenda, Sanders noted that there were 620,000 marijuana possession arrests in 2014. That’s one a minute, according to The Washington Post.
Sanders pointed to marijuana arrests as another example of the disparate treatment of African-Americans by the criminal justice system. 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, the American Civil Liberties Union found. According to the ACLU report, there were more than 8 million marijuana arrests in the United States from 2001 to 2010, and almost 9 in 10 were for possession. State governments spent $3.6 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010, the most recent year in the study.
Arrests for marijuana possession rose nationwide last year even as Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the use of marijuana, followed by Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia. The legalization movement may spread next year when marijuana decriminalization advocates plan to put the question to voters on ballots in Nevada, Arizona and California.
A 2012 estimate calculated that about 20,000-30,000 people are in prison on marijuana possession alone.