Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is backing his words with action, in the form of a bill that could lead to the national legalization of marijuana.
The legislation comes on the heels of comments by Sanders, one of two leading candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2016, that he wanted to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. That Nixon-era law divides DEA-controlled drugs into five categories, or schedules.
Schedule 1 is the most restrictive, and the feds believe the substances on it are the most dangerous, the most addictive, and the least medically useful. It includes heroin, LSD, peyote – and weed. Reformers have been pushing to reschedule marijuana for many years, with no success.
Sanders’ legislation would allow states to legalize
But that could change. Sanders filed his bill in the Senate in early November, saying it would free all states to legalize. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act is similar to a House bill authored by Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado, who refiled his legislation this year as the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. Both bills would remove cannabis from schedule 1 and the rest of the CSA.
It would also mean an end to federal criminal enforcement of weed laws. With a regulated legal industry spreading from coast to coast, Americans could buy, possess, and use the drug almost anywhere, just like booze. Prices would drop far enough to strangle the black market. Drug cartels would lose a major source of profit. And violent crime might plummet.
“Just as alcohol prohibition failed in the 1920s, it’s clear marijuana prohibition is failing today,” Polis said. “For decades, the federal ban on marijuana has wasted tax dollars, impeded our criminal justice system, lined the pockets of drug cartels, and trampled on states’ ability to set their own public health laws. . . . Today’s introduction of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act in the Senate is a huge step forward in the movement to enact the commonsense drug laws needed to grow our economy and restore fairness to our justice system.”
Acting on recent comments
Sanders filed his bill just days after promising to reschedule pot if elected. His initial proposal would have moved marijuana to a lower schedule, but the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act would go further and strike the drug from the CSA entirely.
The Senate bill departs from the House version on one important point. Polis’ legislation would move federal marijuana regulation from the DEA to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and would treat it like alcohol, with similar rules for importing, shipping, and selling it. Sanders’ bill doesn’t have such a provision.
Pro-weed groups were quick to applaud Sanders for acting.
“This is the first time a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition has been introduced in the U.S. Senate,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority. “A growing majority of Americans want states to be able to enact their own marijuana laws without harassment from the DEA, and lawmakers should listen. The introduction of this bill proves that the defeat of the Ohio marijuana monopoly measure that wasn’t widely supported in our movement isn’t doing anything to slow down our national momentum.”