Bernie Sanders' Libertarian Stance on Pot

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Libertarians like me love Bernie Sanders. Probably, a large share of Ron Paul's youth voters are now supporting Sanders. I constantly see right-leaning libertarians, such as the writers in Reason's magazine, highlighting Senator Sanders' finer points. On foreign policy, he is the only noninterventionist in the race in either party, which earned him a B-rating from Reason. None of the other candidates scored above a C. He called the Export-Import Bank, known in Washington as the "Bank of Boeing" because of its fervent support for large multinational corporations like Boeing, "corporate welfare." That earned him both a write up in Reason and praise from the Koch brothers. He has long been outspoken about the ill effects of mass incarceration -- another issue where he and the Koch brothers share common ground. And, a decidedly libertarian position, Sanders favors moving pot completely off of the Controlled Substances Act's schedule-- ending the federal government's prohibition on marijuana.

Pot is currently a Schedule I drug according to the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I narcotics are viewed to have the high potential for abuse, no medical benefit at all and lack of a safe manner of use even with medical supervision. Marijuana obviously does not belong in the same schedule as heroin. It has been proven to have a very small addiction rate, many medicinal benefits and is safer to use than alcohol.

Keeping a substance in Schedule I means many things that have kept pot from becoming more mainstream. It inhibits research on marijuana. A lot of what we know about pot comes from studies in other countries. Even Dr. Sanjay Gupta had to travel to Israel to learn more about uses of medical marijuana in hospitals. It also maintains the federal monopoly on pot grown for medical research. Senators Cory Booker, Kristen Gillibrand and Rand Paul introduced legislation calling for the federal government to expand its list of medical marijuana suppliers. And, it maintains the federal government's prohibition on cannabis, causing much confusion considering that forty states and the District of Columbia have some form of medical marijuana and that four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational pot. Several more states are likely to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in 2016.

The issue of medical and recreational marijuana legalization should be left to the states. Nowhere in the Constitution is the federal government granted the power to prohibit pot. In order to prohibit alcohol, the Eighteenth Amendment had to be passed. Similarly, the federal government should need a constitutional amendment to prohibit marijuana. Only one candidate in the field wants to get the federal government out of the way on cannabis and honor the constitution by doing so, making Sanders' position on cannabis legalization vastly different and more progressive than Hillary Clinton's. Clinton wants to move pot to Schedule II with cocaine, which would legalize medical marijuana but still prohibit recreational marijuana. By moving pot completely off the schedule, like Sanders wants, the federal government would be forced to stop usurping a power in prohibition that it was never intended to have.

Libertarians should love Senator Sanders' position on pot. Unlike the other candidates on this issue, he understands the correct application of the power of the federal government. As more states move to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, we will be faced with more challenges as a nation. Marijuana dispensaries should be brought out of the shadows and allowed to do business with banks. One in eight of all federal prisoners, most of which are Black, should not be serving time for marijuana offenses. People seeking medicine should not be prohibited from doing so because the federal government might raid their dispensary. States seeking a safer alternative to alcohol use among their residents should be able to decide if they want to legalize recreational marijuana. Bernie gets all of this and more and that is why his position on pot is the most prudent in the field.