One of the early candidates in the race for the White House said he supports the decriminalization of marijuana and might ultimately favor total legalization of marijuana.
During an Ask Me Anything interview on Reddit May 19, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, said he’s leaving the door open to legalization for both medical and recreational use. He came closer than any candidate has to endorsing legal weed.
“Let me just say this,” Sanders said in response to a question about the drug war. “The state of Vermont voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and I support that. I have supported the use of medical marijuana. And when I was mayor of Burlington, in a city with a large population, I can tell you very few people were arrested for smoking marijuana. Our police had more important things to do.”
Increasing conversation about reform
Sanders is considered a liberal long-shot in the 2016 race, but he’s helping to drive an increasingly reform-minded political conversation on the American left. He’s only the latest to offer support for cannabis reform.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the presumed front-runner for the Democratic nomination, said earlier this year that she supports medical marijuana and is open to discussing further reforms. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican, has tentatively backed change.
Young voters support legalization
Legalization is likely to become a major issue in the campaign, so it’s no coincidence candidates are already staking ground on the subject. The 2016 election is expected to attract large numbers of the young, mostly Millennial voters who typically favor legalization. Winning them over with weed could prove a major boost to any presidential aspirant.
Even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose hopes for the White House fade by the day, threw in earlier this year. He took the opposite approach, stridently opposing reform of any kind, but the fact that he brought it up at all shows how important the issue has become.
Sanders said he would ultimately make up his mind about full legalization based on continuing developments in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska, where pot is currently legal. The senator said the signs so far are hopeful.
“Colorado has led the effort toward legalizing marijuana and I’m going to watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses of what they have done,” Sanders said. “I will have more to say about this issue within the coming months.”
Sanders announced his presidential campaign in April. He is currently the only high-profile Democrat challenging Clinton for the nomination, though others are likely to join in coming months.
Marijuana is a topic of central concern to the left. Anti-drug laws drive the country’s massive incarceration problem, which destroys countless mostly black lives for nothing more serious than a non-lethal plant. Even some on the right, including Paul, are at least hedging their bets on reform, noting that it will probably happen whether they oppose it or not.