Sanders: Give states freedom to treat pot like alcohol

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Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWebb: The race to 270 Arizona and Georgia: Not swing states — yet The American electorate is pulling apart MORE (I-Vt.) called to end marijuana’s federal classification as one of the most dangerous illegal drugs during a Wednesday-night town hall event with college students.

“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 during a town hall at George Mason University in Virginia that was live streamed and shown at watch parties on more than 250 college campuses. 

Marijuana is currently classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 1 drug, which means that it has “no currently accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.” Other Schedule 1 drugs include LSD, heroin and ecstasy, a fact that Sanders called “absurd.”

As a Schedule 1 drug, it remains illegal at the federal level despite the small handful of states that have legalized it and a larger group that allow for medicinal use of marijuana.

“The time  is  long  overdue  for  us  to  remove  the  federal prohibition  on marijuana,” he said to applause from a rowdy crowd of college students standing around him.

Sanders’s call to remove it from the federal government’s scheduling entirely would put it on par with tobacco and alcohol, and states would be able to determine whether the drug should be legal without federal retribution.

It also would remove the threat of federal prosecution for marijuana users or medicinal marijuana distributors in states that have already legalized the drug.

President Obama has said neither are priorities for his Justice Department. Some Republican presidential candidates, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have said they’ll crack down if elected.

Sanders noted that the plan would allow marijuana businesses to use banks without the risk of breaking the law. He framed the issue as a criminal justice imperative that could not only alleviate the prison population and said that the tax revenue from legalized marijuana “could be used to fight the effects of substance abuse of hard drugs like opiates that are harming so many communities.”

Sanders’s stance goes the furthest of all presidential candidates. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley wants to lower the drug to federal Schedule 2, while Hillary Clinton has said she wants to wait to see what lessons can be learned from states that have legalized marijuana before making a decision.

After revealing his new marijuana policy proposal, he delved into a modified stump speech aimed at college students, hitting on issues like youth unemployment, equal pay for women, and tuition-free public college.

Sanders's rally came on the same night as the GOP debate, a fact he had some fun with.

"You owe me big, I’m keeping you away from the Republican debate,” he said to cheers