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Bernie Sanders Wants to End the War on Drugs: Could He Pull It Off as the Next President?

August 20, 2015

As the 2016 presidential election race heats up, we’re watching the candidates closely to see how they feel about cannabis. And while certain politicians have said that they would crack down on legal cannabis by enforcing the federal controlled substance laws, one politician is listening to the people and choosing a much more progressive approach.

Bernie Sanders, the cannabis-supporting, independent-leaning Vermont socialist, appeared at a campaign rally in Nevada and spoke about many of the issues plaguing the American justice system. He spent a great deal of time referring to the severe racial disparity of arrests in the United States, particularly when it comes to arrests for simple cannabis possession.

People of color are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis, clearly indicating a significant racial bias. As more and more states decriminalize and legalize cannabis, these numbers are improving and Bernie has definitely noticed. He made a bold promise regarding changes to private prisons that profit from the War on Drugs:

“When Congress reconvenes in September, I will be introducing legislation which takes corporations out of profiteering from running jails.”

While it may surprise some, private prisons are extremely profitable in America, raking in billions of dollars annually despite their often inhumane treatment of prisoners. When you juxtapose the success of private prisons with the many unnecessary and inappropriate arrest rates, it creates a conflict of epic proportions.

Sanders' stance on civil rights has gotten noticeably more prominent since he was confronted by Black Lives Matter activists at a campaign rally in Seattle. He has long espoused the multitude of problems caused by the War on Drugs, and he has indicated that it will be a focus of his campaign:

"Millions of lives have been destroyed because people are in jail for nonviolent crimes. For decades, we have been engaged in a failed ‘War on Drugs’ with racially-biased mandatory minimums that punish people of color unfairly. It is an obscenity that we stigmatize so many young Americans with a criminal record for smoking marijuana, but not one major Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for causing the near collapse of our entire economy."

In case you missed it, Bernie Sanders rates high on the Canna-Support Meter of the various presidential candidates, and in his speech at the Nevada rally, he insinuated that he will be announcing a marijuana legalization platform in the coming weeks. If he follows through with it, he would be one of the first Democratic candidates to openly support cannabis legalization. The only other presidential candidate who has come out in support of cannabis is Rand Paul (R-KY), one of the authors and co-sponsors of the revolutionary CARERS Act.

The next presidential election could make or break the cannabis movement. Are you registered?

Check out our breakdown of the 2016 presidential candidates and their stance on cannabis:

What Do the 2016 Presidential Candidates Think About Cannabis?

Image credit: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Lisa Rough's Bio Image
Lisa Rough

Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.

View Lisa Rough's articles