Senator Bernie Sanders recently introduced the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015” to the U.S. Senate. As its title suggests, this bill would end the federal government’s long-standing prohibition against marijuana. Sanders is championing himself as the presidential candidate most in favor of ending prohibition and the one who realizes that “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.”
The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance with a high risk for abuse and no recognized medical use. According to the CSA, marijuana is more dangerous than cocaine, which is listed as Schedule II. Twenty-three states and Washington D.C. have approved medical marijuana, yet the federal government’s position regarding cannabis officially remains unchanged. If passed, Bernie Sander’s bill would change that.
This bill would add a new section to the CSA stating “This Act shall not apply to marihuana” and it would also explicitly remove “marihuana” and “tetrahydrocannabinols” from Schedule I. This bill also would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act, thereby removing restrictions that prohibit the U.S. from participating in international marijuana transactions. The bill would, however, prohibit moving marijuana across national and state boarders in violation of any U.S. or State law. This would leave the US states free to decide whether to legalize marijuana.
Marijuana legislation at the federal level is not a new phenomenon and we have chronicled various legislative efforts here. Earlier this year Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) reintroduced the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.” This Bill was previously introduced in 2013. The bill was introduced, and not much else has happened; it has not been subjected to committee hearings. Senator Sanders new bill may suffer a similar fate.
But even if this bill does not become law, it is still significant and it certainly has marijuana activists (and others) talking. Mason Tvert, Director of Communications at the Marijuana Policy Project had this to say regarding Senator Sanders’ marijuana bill:
Sen. Sanders really grabbed the nation’s attention when he became the first major-party presidential candidate to speak out in support of ending marijuana prohibition. His actions today speak even louder than his words last month. Hopefully, this legislation will get his colleagues in Congress talking about the need for comprehensive marijuana policy reform.
This sentiment should not be ignored. This is a historic moment in the movement to legalize marijuana. A viable presidential candidate has proposed legislation that would legalize marijuana at the federal level. This seemed unimaginable even a year ago. The ending of federal marijuana prohibition is far from a guarantee, but by introducing this bill to the Senate, Bernie Sanders has moved forward the discussion of marijuana in this country.
And that is a good thing.