While Bernie Sanders may have conceded defeat in the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination, his legacy lives on creating a shift in the ideologies of the Democratic party and forever changing its views on cannabis.
“We are trying to do nothing less than transform the Democratic party,” Sanders said during a recent C-SPAN interview. And with over 12 million supporters in his pocket, he’s forcing the party to embrace more progressive positions, specifically with cannabis.
Sanders, an unexpected and formidable opponent in the race to become president, was the only major presidential candidate to publicly call for an end to federal marijuana prohibition. He even introduced legislation in the Senate to do so.
This move enthralled a generation of young, liberal voters, who will soon represent the largest generation in the electorate. In turn, it’s forced Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to reverse her stance on marijuana.
Leading up to Clinton’s 2008 presidential run, she said in 2007 she opposed decriminalizing marijuana (a step below legalization). Since then, however, her stance has changed to loosening restrictions on marijuana to spur more research into the drug’s medicinal benefits.
Even presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has been forced to re-change his stance, after moving in the opposite direction of the legalization issue, having been in support of legalizing all drugs back in the 1990s. However, when asked about Colorado’s legalization efforts at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015, Trump commented, “I say it’s bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about it.”
It didn’t take long for Trump to flip-flop again. Four months later he told a gathered crowd in Nevada, “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state by state.” A candidate’s stance on marijuana could be a big issue in the 2016 election as support for legalization grows. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, while recreational marijuana is legal in four states, plus Washington D.C.
In addition, a 2013 Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans favor legalization. For those ages 18-29 that percentage jumps to 67 percent. According to data from Pew Research Center, young millennials support marijuana at much higher rates than their elders with 63 percent of Republican millennials favoring marijuana legalization and 77 percent of Democratic millennials favoring legalization.
Those young adult voters overwhelmingly went for Sanders during the Iowa Caucus by a whopping 70 percent margin. Sanders was able to garner that support by calling for a “revolution” and an overhaul of the Democratic Party.
Under pressure from Sanders and his supporters to embrace a “political revolution” Clinton has been forced to pull the party in a more liberal direction in an attempt to gain the support of the youth vote.
Marijuana activists feel this could be a real tipping point for their movement as candidates fight over millennials. With a majority of young voters favoring an end to marijuana prohibition, Sanders’ call for legalization is forcing the candidates to take a more liberal approach to cannabis.
Clinton has gone on record saying that she now supports the use of medicinal marijuana for people with “extreme conditions.” A stark change from her stance in 2008. In addition, she recently sided with Sanders on proposed marijuana policy stating, “I agree completely with the idea that we have got to stop imprisoning people who use marijuana. Therefore, we need more states, cities, and the federal government to begin to address this so that we don’t have this terrible result that Senator Sanders was talking about where we have a huge population in our prisons for nonviolent, low-level offenses that are primarily due to marijuana.”
Sanders has been a long-time advocate for the end of the mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders. He has also openly supported the use of medical marijuana and co-sponsored the States’ Rights to Medical Marijuana Act in 2001, which, if enacted, would have turned marijuana into a Schedule II substance.
Clinton has also freshened her stance on that matter stating she would consider rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance to aid with research.
In 2008 no major candidate even supported decriminalization when asked in a debate. Fast-forward to 2016 and Sanders has brought the legalization issue to the forefront of mainstream American politics forcing candidates to take a more progressive stance and forever changing the cannabis conversation.
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