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Bernie Sanders on Drugs

Democratic primary challenger; Independent VT Senator; previously Representative (VT-At-Large)

 


Remove cocaine sentencing disparities

Sanders on Cocaine Sentencing Disparities: Scrap the disparity.

TWO CANDIDATES HAVE SIMILAR VIEWS: Joseph Biden, Jr.; Cory Booker.

Sen. Cory Booker has introduced a bill meant to serve as a companion to the 2018 criminal justice legislation, called the Next Step Act. Booker's bill would eliminate the crack cocaine sentencing disparity by reducing it from 18:1 to 1:1.

Sen. Bernie Sanders called for the same in 2015, prompting Hillary Clinton to embrace the same reform.

Source: Politico "2020Dems on the Issues" , Jul 17, 2019

Marijuana Justice Act: decriminalize pot & expunge records

Legalizing marijuana is an issue that has seen a steady uptick in support over the years. Fifteen states have decriminalized marijuana while 10 others and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.

Many in the Democratic presidential primary field have issued full-throated support for legalizing the drug on the federal level. Earlier this year, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) reintroduced the Marijuana Justice Act, which would legalize marijuana on the federal level and expunge the records of those who have been charged with a crime for using or possessing the drug. Several Democratic presidential contenders have signed on as cosponsors of the measure: Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro are among the candidates that have also signaled support for legalization efforts.

Source: Denver CBS Local on 2020 Democratic presidential primary , May 16, 2019

Co-sponsored federal legalization of marijuana

He co-sponsored Sen. Cory Booker's recently reintroduced Marijuana Justice Act, that would legalize marijuana on the federal level.
Source: Axios.com "What you need to know about 2020" , Apr 12, 2019

Why is marijuana treated legally equal to heroin?

After almost fifty years of the war on drugs, we can conclude that this was has been a dismal failure and, as in many other wars, countless lives have been destroyed. In 2018, the Controlled Substances Act continues to treat both marijuana and heroin equally as Schedule 1 substances. You may like marijuana or you may not, but very few informed people believe that marijuana should be treated similarly to a killer drug like heroin.

And yet, in 2016, there were approximately 587,000 arrests for marijuana--roughly one per minute.

Many states and cities are taking action to undo the damage caused by the war on drugs. More and more states are moving to decriminalize or legalize the possession of marijuana, and some have passed legislation to expunge prior misdemeanor convictions. The prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s was a failed policy. The prohibition of marijuana has also failed.

Addiction is not a crime. It is an illnesses, and should be treated as such.

Source: Where We Go From Here, by Bernie Sanders, p.196-7 , May 4, 2018

Racist & failed war on drugs targets people of color

The intersection of racism and criminal justice is not limited to police violence. An even bigger issue is the failed war on drugs, which has over the decades harmed millions through the arrest and jailing of people for nonviolent crimes. Since 1980, this "war" has disproportionately targeted people of color. Blacks and whites use drugs at roughly the same overall rates. However, blacks are arrested for drug use at far greater rates than whites, largely because of overpolicing, racial profiling, and the fact that black motorists are three times more likely than whites to be searched during a traffic stop.

Take marijuana use. Blacks smoke marijuana at a slightly higher rate than whites. However, blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

In 2014 there were 620,000 total marijuana possession arrests. And that's a major reason why African Americans account for 37% of those arrested for drug offenses when they only comprise 14% of regular drug users.

Source: Guide to Political Revolution, by Bernie Sanders, p.159-61 , Aug 29, 2017

We must end the "War on drugs"

Because of over-policing in minority communities and racial profiling, African-Americans are twice as likely to be arrested than whites.

Of course, the intersection of racism and criminal justice is not limited to police violence. To my mind, an even bigger issue is the failed "War on Drugs," which has over the decades harmed millions of lives through the arrest and jailing of people for nonviolent crimes. The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased TWELVEFOLD since 1980, and this "war" has disproportionately targeted people of color.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, blacks and whites use drugs at roughly the same overall rates. However, blacks are arrested for drug use at far greater rates than whites, largely because of over-policing, racial profiling, and--according to the Department of Justice--the fact that blacks are three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop compared with white motorists.

Source: Our Revolution, by Bernie Sanders, p. 377-379 , Nov 15, 2016

Opioid treatment instead of locking them up

We cannot jail our way out of health problems like mental illness and drug addiction. Our country is facing an opioid crisis, both in terms of prescription pain medicine abuse and heroin addiction. People are dying every day from overdoes. But the solution is not to lock up addicts. We have to treat substance abuse as a serious public health issue rather than a criminal issue, so that all people--regardless of their income--can get the help they need.
Source: Our Revolution, by Bernie Sanders, p. 381-2 , Nov 15, 2016

Pharmaceutical companies are responsible for opioid epidemic

Q [to Clinton]: Would you continue the war on drugs?

CLINTON: The federal government [should spend about $1 billion] to help states: Police must be equipped with the antidote to an opioid overdose. We have to move away from treating the use of drugs as a crime and instead as a health issue. And we need to divert more people from the criminal justice system into drug courts.

SANDERS: I agree with everything the Secretary said, but let me just add this: there is a responsibility on the part of the pharmaceutical industry and the drug companies who are producing all of these drugs and not looking at the consequence of it. And second of all, when we talk about addiction being a disease, the Secretary is right, what that means is we need a revolution in this country in terms of mental health treatment. People should be able to get the treatment that they need when they need it, not two months from now, which is why I believe in universal healthcare with mental health, as part of that.

Source: 2016 NBC Democratic debate , Jan 17, 2016

Why police records for marijuana but not white collar crime?

CLINTON: One out of three African American men may well end up going to prison.

SANDERS: Let me respond to what the secretary said. We have a criminal justice system which is broken. Who in America is satisfied that we have more people in jail than any other country on Earth, including China? Disproportionately African American, and Latino. Who is satisfied that 51% of African American young people are either unemployed, or underemployed? Who is satisfied that millions of people have police records for possessing marijuana when the CEO's of Wall Street companies who destroyed our economy have no police records. We need to take a very hard look at our criminal justice system, investing in jobs and education, not in jails and incarceration.

Source: 2016 NBC Democratic presidential primary debate , Jan 17, 2016

Take marijuana out of the controlled substances list

Q: What to do about drug addiction?

CLINTON: Heroin is a major epidemic. I would like the federal government to offer $10 billion over ten years to work with states.

O'MALLEY: The number of heroin deaths is growing significantly. We have to tell doctors who are prescribing opiates that we cannot have this huge number of opiates out there.

SANDERS: Today we have more people in jail than any other country on earth, 2.2 million people. Predominantly African-American and Hispanic. We are spending $80 billion a year locking up Americans. I think we need a major effort to come together and end institutional racism. We need major reforms of a broken criminal justice system. What does that mean? It means that we have to rethink the so-called war on drugs which has destroyed the lives of millions of people, which is why I have taken marijuana out of the Controlled Substance Act. So that it will not be a federal crime.

Source: 2015 ABC/WMUR Democratic primary debate in N.H. , Dec 19, 2015

Treat addiction as a disease, not a crime

The number of heroin deaths is growing significantly. What do we do? For a start, we have to tell doctors who are prescribing opiates that we cannot have this huge number of opiates out there, where young people are taking them, getting hooked, and then going to heroin. Second, we need to understand that addiction is a disease, not a criminal activity. When somebody is addicted and seeking help, they should not have to wait months to get that help.
Source: 2015 ABC/WMUR Democratic primary debate in N.H. , Dec 19, 2015

I would vote for recreational marijuana, to reduce jailings

Q: In Nevada, there will be a measure to legalize recreational marijuana on the 2016 ballot. If you were a Nevada resident, how would you vote?

A: I would vote yes because I am seeing too many lives being destroyed for non-violent offenses. We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away, and yet we are imprisoning young people who are smoking marijuana. I think we have to think through this war on drugs which has done an enormous amount of damage.

Source: 2015 CNN Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas , Oct 13, 2015

War on drugs is a failed policy; treatment over punishment

Bernie believes the current prohibition of drug use, colloquially known as the "war on drugs," is a failed policy. He co-sponsored a bill to reduce recidivism, allowing incarcerated offenders access to pharmacological drug treatment. Bernie has opposed expanding the war on drugs by voting "no" both on military border patrols to battle drugs and terrorism, and on plans to subject federal employees to random drug tests. Bernie recognizes that the war on drugs has not quelled the drug-use epidemics facing the nation; he believes punishment doesn't help but treatment does.
Source: 2016 grassroots campaign website FeelTheBern.org, "Issues" , Sep 5, 2015

Decriminalize marijuana and study recreational legalization

Q: What about medical marijuana?

A: Bernie supports the medical use of marijuana and the rights of states to determine its legality. He co-sponsored the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act in 2001

Q: And recreational pot?

A: Bernie wants to learn more about the impact that recreational legalization will have in states such as Colorado in order to determine whether or not he supports it: "Vermont voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and I support that. And when I was mayor of Burlington, in a city with a large population, very few people were arrested for smoking marijuana. Our police had more important things to do."

Q: Has Bernie ever inhaled?

A: Bernie has inhaled! But, he wasn't a fan, personally: "Because I coughed a lot. I smoked marijuana twice, didn't quite work for me. It's not my thing, but it is the thing of a whole lot of people."

Source: 2016 grassroots campaign website FeelTheBern.org, "Issues" , Sep 5, 2015

Voted NO on military border patrols to battle drugs & terrorism.

Amendment to set up a task force on counter-terrorism and drug interdiction and allow military personnel to help patrol U.S. borders.
Bill HR 2586 ; vote number 2001-356 on Sep 25, 2001

Voted NO on subjecting federal employees to random drug tests.

Drug Demand Reduction Act: Vote on an amendment to require that anyone hired by the Federal Government is subject to random, unannounced drug testing.
Reference: Amendment by Taylor, D-MS; bill by Portman, R-OH.; Bill HR 4550 ; vote number 1998-443 on Sep 16, 1998

Legalize medical marijuana.

Sanders co-sponsored the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act:

Source: House Resolution Sponsorship 01-HR2592 on Jul 23, 2001

Exclude industrial hemp from definition of marijuana.

Sanders co-sponsored Industrial Hemp Farming Act

Sponsor's Remarks:
Rep. PAUL: Nine States allow industrial hemp production or research in accord with State laws. However, Federal law is standing in the way of farmers in these States growing what may be a very profitable crop. Because of current Federal law, all hemp included in products sold in the US must be imported instead of being grown by American farmers. Since 1970, the federal Controlled Substances Act's inclusion of industrial hemp in the "schedule one" definition of marijuana has prohibited American farmers from growing industrial hemp despite the fact that industrial hemp has such a low content of THC (the psychoactive chemical in the related marijuana plant) that nobody can be psychologically affected by consuming hemp.

The US is the only industrialized nation that prohibits industrial hemp cultivation. Industrial hemp is a crop that was grown legally throughout the US for most of our Nation's history. In fact, during World War II, the Federal Government actively encouraged American farmers to grow industrial hemp to help the war effort. It is unfortunate that the Federal Government has stood in the way of American farmers competing in the global industrial hemp market. Indeed, the founders of our Nation, some of whom grew hemp, would surely find that federal restrictions on farmers growing a safe and profitable crop on their own land are inconsistent with the constitutional guarantee of a limited Government.

Source: HR1831/S3501/HR525(2013) 12-S3501 on Aug 2, 2012

Exempt industrial hemp from marijuana laws.

Sanders signed Industrial Hemp Farming Act

Congressional Summary:Amends the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of "marihuana." Defines "industrial hemp" to mean the plant Cannabis sativa and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a THC concentration of not more than 0.3%.

Argument in favor (Sen. Ron Wyden):

Members of Congress hear a lot about how dumb regulations are hurting economic growth and job creation. The current ban on growing industrial hemp is hurting job creation in rural America and increasing our trade deficit. This bill will end this ridiculous regulation. Right now, the US is importing over $10 million in hemp products--a crop that US farmers could be profitably growing right here at home, if not for government rules prohibiting it. Now, even though hemp and marijuana come from the same species of plant, there are major differences between them. The Chihuahua and St. Bernard come from the same species, too, but no one is going to confuse them.

Argument in opposition (Drug Enforcement Agency):

Argument in opposition (DrugWatch.org 10/30/2013):

Source: S.359/H.R.525 14_S0359 on Feb 14, 2013

Rated A+ by NORML, indicating a pro-drug-reform stance.

Sanders scores A+ by the NORML on drug reform

OnTheIssues.org interprets the 2016 NORML scores as follows:

About NORML (from their website, www.norml.org):

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law's mission is to move public opinion sufficiently to achieve the repeal of marijuana prohibition so that the responsible use of cannabis by adults is no longer subject to penalty.

NORML is a nonprofit, public-interest lobby that for more than 30 years has provided a voice for those Americans who oppose marijuana prohibition. We represent the interests of the tens of millions of Americans who smoke marijuana responsibly and believe the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana should no longer be a crime.

NORML supports the removal of all criminal penalties for the private possession & responsible use of marijuana by adults, including the cultivation for personal use, and the casual nonprofit transfers of small amounts. This model is called "decriminalization."

NORML additionally supports the development of a legally controlled market for marijuana, where consumers could purchase it from a safe, legal and regulated source. This model is referred to as "legalization."

NORML believes that marijuana smoking is not for kids and should only be used responsibly by adults. As with alcohol consumption, it must never be an excuse for misconduct or other bad behavior. Driving or operating heavy equipment while impaired from marijuana should be prohibited.

NORML strongly supports the right of patients to use marijuana as a medicine when their physician recommends it to relieve pain and suffering.

Lastly, NORML supports the right of farmers to commercially cultivate hemp for industrial purposes, such as food and fiber production.

Source: NORML website 16_NORML on Nov 8, 2016

Immunity for banks offering services to marijuana businesses.

Sanders signed immunity for banks offering services to marijuana businesses

Congressional Summary:This bill provides a safe harbor for depository institutions providing financial services to a marijuana-related legitimate business insofar as it prohibits a federal banking regulator from:

  1. terminating or limiting the deposit or share insurance of a depository institution solely because it provides financial services to a marijuana-related legitimate business; or
  2. prohibiting, penalizing, or otherwise discouraging a depository institution from offering such services.
Immunity from federal criminal prosecution or investigation is granted, subject to certain conditions, to a depository institution that provides financial services to a marijuana-related legitimate business in a state or one of its political subdivisions that allows the cultivation, production, manufacture, sale, transportation, display, dispensing, distribution, or purchase of marijuana.

Argument in Favor: [Cato Institute, March 31, 2016]: Marijuana is now legal under the laws of [several] states, but not under federal law. And this creates huge headaches for marijuana businesses:

Source: Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act 16-S1726 on Apr 28, 2015

Criminalize imports of opioid precursors.

Sanders signed criminalizing imports of opioid precursors

Excerpts from Letter from 17 Senators to the President of the European Commission We write to request designating NPP and ANPP, which are precursor chemicals of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, as Table I substances under the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. NPP and ANPP are [legal under EU law but] already controlled in the U.S. under the Controlled Substances Act. However, without collective international action it will be difficult to control NPP and ANPP, and will frustrate efforts to curb manufacturing and trafficking of illicit fentanyl.

Opposing argument: (ACLU, "Against Drug Prohibition"): People in almost all cultures, in every era, have used psychoactive drugs. A "drug free America" is not a realistic goal, and by criminally banning psychoactive drugs the government has ceded control of potentially dangerous substances to criminals. Instead of trying to stamp out drug use, our government should focus on reducing drug abuse and prohibition-generated crime. This requires a fundamental change in public policy: repeal of criminal prohibition and the creation of a reasonable regulatory system.

Opposing argument: (Cato Institute, "Do Restrictions Reduce Opioid Poisonings?", by Jeffrey Miron): Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs), which record a patient's opioid prescribing history, when required as "must access," PDMPs significantly reduce misuse in Medicare Part D. But there is no statistically significant effect on opioid poisoning incidents. How is this possible? The simplest explanation is that, despite all the hype, prescription opioids are not that dangerous, even in heavy doses, when used under medical supervision. Instead, most poisonings reflect use of diverted prescription opioids, or black market opioids, which may be adulterated. Under this interpretation, restrictions on opioid prescribing might even increase opioid poisonings.

Source: Letter on Fentanyl 17LTR-NPP on Feb 17, 2017

Other candidates on Drugs: Bernie Sanders on other issues:
2020 Presidential Democratic Primary Candidates:
Sen.Michael Bennet (D-CO)
V.P.Joe Biden (D-DE)
Gov.Steve Bullock (D-MT)
Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-IN)
Sen.Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Secy.Julian Castro (D-TX)
Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-NYC)
Rep.John Delaney (D-MD)
Rep.Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)
Sen.Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Sen.Mike Gravel (D-AK)
Sen.Kamala Harris (D-CA)
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Page last updated: Aug 03, 2019