Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said on Wednesday that Congress should federally legalize marijuana as another step toward enacting policing reform and addressing racial injustices.
During a speech on the Senate floor, Sanders discussed a wide range of changes that he feels should be implemented to policing and criminal justice policies.
The former presidential candidate is one of several policymakers who have recently argued that ending the criminalization of cannabis could mitigate unnecessary law enforcement interactions amidst growing outrage about police killings of black people.
“Finally, and certainly not least importantly, we need to legalize marijuana,” he said toward the end of a nearly 25-minute address. “In the midst of the many crises we face as a country, it is absurd that, under the federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is at Schedule I, along with killer drugs like heroin.”
Watch Sanders discuss cannabis policy as part of policing reform in the video below:
“State after state have moved to legalize marijuana, and it is time for the federal government to do the same,” he added. “When we talk about police department reform, we must end police officers continuing to arrest, search or jail the people of our country, predominantly people of color, for using marijuana.”
The senator made similar points during a virtual town hall event with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) last week.
Along similar lines Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) argued during a House Judiciary Committee markup of policing reform legislation on Wednesday that these policy changes should be coupled with ending marijuana prohibition in the name of racial justice.
“Although cannabis reform in terms of its criminalization will not undo the practices that have led to these demonstrations that we’re seeing today, decriminalizing cannabis will be a major step in the right direction,” he said. “Congress, in my opinion, must move to address decriminalizing cannabis.”
Two other members of the House circulated a sign-on letter last week urging fellow lawmakers to keep marijuana reform in mind as a way to further promote racial justice while they debate policing reform legislation.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) described his states’s legalization of marijuana as a “civil rights” matter earlier this month.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said that the passage of cannabis decriminalization legislation this year represents an example of how his state has addressed racial inequities that are inspiring mass protests in the wake of police killings of black people such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Booker also recently said racial disparities in marijuana enforcement is an example of a systemic injustice that underlies the frustration of minority communities.
Last month, 12 House members introduced a resolution condemning police brutality and specifically noting the racial injustices of the war on drugs.
That measure came one week after 44 members of the House sent a letter to the Justice Department, calling for an independent investigation into a fatal police shooting of Taylor in a botched drug raid.
In New York, there’s a renewed push to pass a package of criminal justice reform legislation that includes a bill to legalize marijuana.
The head of a federal health agency recently acknowledged racial disparities in drug enforcement and the harm that such disparate practices have caused—and NORML asked her to go on the record to further admit that this trend in criminalization is more harmful than marijuana itself.
Meanwhile, the Library of Congress recently posted a collection of racist news clippings that helped drive the criminalization of marijuana a century ago.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.