Sanders Outperforms Bush On Cannabis At Town Halls

Mount Rushmore Cannabis Now Magazine

With the Nevada caucus and South Carolina primary looming large on Saturday, Democrats traveled to Las Vegas and Republicans to Columbia on Thursday for a series of town hall meetings aired on MSNBC and CNN, respectively.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, most candidates stuck to scripts remained consistent with platforms they’ve expressed before. But Democratic candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Republican candidate former Florida Governor Jeb Bush made new statements about their perception of marijuana that reveal shifts in the conversation around cannabis legalization.

While Sanders expressed a more racially-aware and progressive argument for ending the War on Drugs, Bush articulated support both for criminal justice reform and doubled down on the “devastating impacts” of cannabis consumption.

Sanders brought up marijuana reform without being prompted. When asked about the state of racial progress in the country, he transferred to speaking about widespread poverty in African American communities and the need for criminal justice reform.

“We have got to do away with mandatory minimum sentences, and I’ll give you one example where we can make huge progress,” Sanders said. “Right now, it turns out that the African-American community and the white community smoke marijuana at about equal levels. But it also turns out that blacks are four times more likely to be arrested than whites for possession of marijuana. And that is why I believe that we should take marijuana out of The Federal Controlled Substance Act.”

Sanders continued, “Too many lives have been destroyed. Too many young people have incurred police records for possession of marijuana.”

In November, Sanders introduced a bill to the floor of the Senate to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, becoming the first Senate bill that proposed completely ending federal marijuana prohibition. His bill, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, still has zero co-sponsors and has almost no likelihood of passing into law. However, the former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who served under Bill Clinton until 1994, stated on Thursday that she supported Sanders’ bill — the first major endorsement that his bill has received.

Across the aisle, Bush attempted to pave a “moderate” path on the issue, taking a position with a façade of sensibility and an undercurrent of hypocrisy.

When asked what his stance was on legalization recreational drug use and how he would combat drug abuse and addiction, Bush responded first by stating that he doesn’t think recreational marijuana should be called “recreational” because of “the potency of this generation of marijuana has major impacts – neurological impacts.”

Bush put forth three steps he believes the government should take: studying “the brain and it’s complexities,” reforming the federal prison system to “focus a little bit more on treatment and a little less on punishment,” and employing business practices to trace drug abuse and the effectiveness of anti-drug abuse strategies.

Interestingly, these three stances sound similar to warped progressive platforms. Cannabis reform advocates have long called for more scientific research on drug influences on the brain, for an end to imprisoning cannabis users and for reasoned, data-supported drug policies.

In making statements that appear to have been influenced by progressive arguments, Bush appeared to be making a sensible case. But his comments came packaged the myth that cannabis use breeds lazy stoners, and that cannabis abuse can be grouped together with addiction to drugs like opiates.

“Addiction in general is a huge problem for our country,” said Bush. “If you believe like I — like I said, informed by my faith that we all are here for a purpose, and if we could imagine everybody reaching their full potential, that we’d have a lot less government. We would have a much, much more compassionate and loving society; a much more prosperous society.”

He also stated that there are “scores of studies” that suggest the “devastating impacts that [cannabis] has on productivity; the impacts it has on brain damage.”

Bush did not mention the countless studies have found evidence to support the medical benefits of cannabis. For example, while Bush suggested that drug use may trigger Alzheimer’s, a recent study found that THC may be use to combat Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have also found that cannabis use is not linked to a lower IQ and that cannabis can be used to make recovering from opioid abuse easier.

Would a candidate’s viewpoint on marijuana sway your vote? Let us know in the comments below.

Julia Clark-Riddell is currently studying journalism at Northwestern University (where professors release reports on the negative effects of long-term cannabis use on the brain), but she is a graduate from Berkeley High School (where a visiting lecturer taught her class how to make edibles). She has previously written for the Santa Barbara Independent and In Our Nature, as well as edited for North By Northwestern, Helicon Literary Magazine and The Berkeley High Jacket. Julia is an editorial intern for Cannabis Now.
  • Rick

    Bernie Sanders needs to be asked at the next town hall or on a tv spot if he were elected president, would he use his executive power to remove marijuana from the federal controlled substance act!

  • elelo

    And…That is why he is not in the race anymore. Thank God That is what my faith says to me.