Bernie Sanders Backs Bill To Punish States With Harsh Marijuana Laws

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Photo Credit: Win McNamee

Several potential rival presidential candidates are teaming up on legislation to end the federal war on marijuana.

On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is signing on as a co-sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act, introduced last year by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).

Many political observers expect that Booker and Sanders will compete for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), another rumored contender, is also a co-sponsor of the bill.

Although the three senators may be just months away from the start of a hard-fought political nominating contest, they are linking arms in support of the most far-reaching cannabis reform bill ever to have been filed in Congress.

“Leaders in the Democratic Party are increasingly recognizing that leading the charge on legalization is not only good policy, but good politics,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, said in an interview. “The constituencies which the party claims to stand for are the ones who have most felt the weight of prohibition and the lifelong consequences of prohibition.”

The Marijuana Justice Act, if passed, would not only remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act so that states could legalize without federal interference, but would also withhold funding from states that maintain criminalization and continue to have racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates for cannabis.

The legislation would also direct federal courts to expunge prior marijuana convictions and would allow people punished under disproportionately enforced cannabis laws to file civil lawsuits against those states.

Money withheld from states with discriminatory marijuana policies would be used to fund job training and libraries.

During his run for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders became the first major contender to endorse legalization. He also filed legislation in the 114th Congress that would have simply removed cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.

Earlier this year, he launched an online petition calling on the federal government to “end its failed war on drugs.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is also a sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) filed a companion bill in the House in January. It currently has 27 cosponsors.

“With Senator Sanders cosponsoring the Marijuana Justice Act alongside Senators Booker and Gillibrand, it’s time for the party to speak with one voice that they will legalize marijuana and expunge the criminal convictions of the millions who are being held back from achieving both employment and the American dream,” NORML’s Strekal said.

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