Bernie Sanders on Wednesday evening slammed U.S. drug policy and called for the lifting of the federal prohibition on marijuana.
The presidential hopeful made the remarks at a town hall meeting at George Mason University.
“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,” the U.S. Senator from Vermont said.
He said that in 2014, there were 620,000 marijuana possession arrests. “That is one arrest every minute,” he said. Sanders also cited an ACLU report that showed that there were over 8 million marijuana arrests from 2001 to 2010, almost 9 in 10 of which were for possession.
“And let us be clear,” he continued, “that there is a racial component to this situation. 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.”
“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 said to applause.
As the Washington Post points out,
In a 2013 memo, the Justice Department essentially agreed to look the other way in states where marijuana is legal, provided that the marijuana industry in those states remained in compliance with state laws. But that memo is not legally binding, and a new administration or a new attorney general could easily reverse course.
Sanders said it was “absurd” that the federal government has pot listed as a Schedule I drug—the same category as heroin—which designates it as having a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical uses.
Echoing the calls (pdf) of drug policy reform advocates, he said, to cheers, “In my view, the time is long overdue for us to remove the federal prohibition on marijuana.”