Next year will be a monumental year for marijuana legalization.
As a movement we are heading into our third national election cycle as a legitimate political force. It started when the first two bricks in the wall of prohibition fell on election night in 2012, when the voters of Colorado and Washington voted in favor of the legalization and regulation of marijuana. Some may even recall that marijuana legalization received more votes in Colorado than President Obama did during his successful reelection campaign.
In 2014, two more states were added to that list (Oregon and Alaska), along with the District of Columbia. Since then, activists around the country have been racing to add their states to the list of those who are 420 friendly. In 2016, as many as eight more states are looking to legalize marijuana, with at least five or six of those campaigns being in strong positions to make it happen.
Considering that the Obama administration was still ignoring our movement in 2012, the upcoming election in 2016 is most certainly going to be the first Presidential election in which we will be taken seriously.
There are currently two candidates running for President who have been willing to speak out in a positive way on our issue.
On the Republican side, libertarian-leaning Rand Paul has stated on multiple occasions that he is in support of states' ability to legalize marijuana without federal intervention. Paul even courted donations from the marijuana industry this summer. Even louder than his rhetoric on marijuana and federalism is his support for several legislative priorities for marijuana reformers, including S.683 The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act of 2015, which would effectively allow states to set their own policies in regards to medical marijuana without the feds getting in the way. He was one of the three original co-sponsors, and spoke at the press conference held to announce the legislation.
Although Rand has said he is not a proponent of legalization and has said that marijuana use lowers IQ, he is far and away the best candidate seeking the Republican nomination for President. In a crowded field and in a political system that is dominated by big money, Rand Paul's chances of winning the Republican nomination are looking pretty slim, at least according to recent polling numbers. There is no doubt that Paul brings much needed attention to the insane nature of the War on Drugs; but in a primary election where a billionaire, reality-TV star has sucked up all the air in the room, it's tough for someone who actually has policy proposals to breakthrough.
The very fact that big money politics has left marijuana on the back burner for so long is exactly why I believe the marijuana industry should be supporting Bernie Sanders for President.
I believe that Bernie Sanders is the best candidate running for President, not only for his stance on marijuana, but also because he wants to fundamentally change the political system that has left us out in the cold for decades. I think that with the support of the cannabis industry he can win the Democratic nomination for President and help bring some rationality to the marijuana conversation nationally.
We just need to push him to take some concrete steps in his capacity as Senator from Vermont to support legislation that his colleague Rand Paul has already signed on to.
Bernie Sanders has long been a supporter of more sensible marijuana policies. In 2005, he was one of the original co-sponsors of the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act, which would have rescheduled medical marijuana, allowing doctors to prescribe and recommend cannabis to their patients. In 1997 he signed on to an earlier version of that same bill, and in 1998 he voted against a resolution that stated Congress' disapproval of the idea that marijuana could be used for medicinal purposes.
A couple of months ago after announcing his candidacy, Sanders took part in a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" session where he was asked inevitably about his stance on marijuana legalization. Here was his answer:
"Let me just say this -- the state of Vermont voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and I support that. I have supported the use of medical marijuana. And when I was mayor of Burlington, in a city with a large population, I can tell you very few people were arrested for smoking marijuana. Our police had more important things to do.Colorado has led the effort toward legalizing marijuana and I'm going to watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses of what they have done. I will have more to say about this issue within the coming months."
Since then he has been asked in interviews with Time and Politico about his views on marijuana, where he has said that he believes that it is a trend that is supported by many young people and that other states will follow in the footsteps of Colorado. He also rebutted President Obama's recent joke at the White House Correspondent's Dinner where Obama called Sanders a "pot-smoking socialist", saying that he hasn't smoked marijuana in over 30 years.
He has thus far stopped shy of saying that he supports marijuana legalization nationwide, but he has on numerous occasions brought up marijuana in his stump speeches, comparing locking kids up for smoking weed while Wall Street bankers walk free after destroying our economy. During his recent hour long speech to a raucous, overflowing, crowd of 28,000 in Portland, Oregon (his largest crowd to date) he made it a point to bring up this disparity in punishment. You can hear the line for yourself in this video starting at about 25:28.
If the marijuana community wants to have an impact on the election of 2016, Bernie Sanders is our guy. Bernie Sanders is a politician that is not beholden to special interests or big money donors, therefore he is a politician who actually responds to the needs of real people.
When Black Lives Matters activists didn't think that Sanders was giving their issue enough attention, they interrupted a forum at Netroots Nation where Sanders was to speak. Although Sanders has a long history of supporting civil rights, he was still willing to hear them out. He even reached out to a prominent activist named Symone Sanders, who has now been hired as the National Press Secretary for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Since bringing her on board, Bernie has put out a full racial justice platform that includes the need to de-militarize our police, banning for-profit prisons, and turning away from the War on Drugs. I think that this not only shows that he understands the issues at hand, but that he is willing to listen, and isn't afraid to take tough stances on issues that too often have been swept under the rug.
Since the rise of Bernie Sanders, and lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton's candidacy (except for in the mainstream media), there have been rumors that Vice-President Joe Biden is looking to get into the Democratic primary race.
For those of us who have been paying attention to drug policy, we know that Joe Biden has historically been one of the worst Democratic politicians when it comes to the War on Drugs. He not only helped create the Drug Czar position, but he also fought for mandatory minimum sentences for federal marijuana crimes, and has been advocating for the Obama administration to stay away from legalization as an official position, even after President Obama was quoted in the New Yorker as saying marijuana is safer than alcohol.
If Biden enters the race, it could be bad news for marijuana reformers everywhere. Biden only has a shot at winning the nomination by pulling from Clinton's base of support, which is where the institutional money and political power is currently placing their bets in hopes of dousing any chance at a Sanders' presidency.
This is why the marijuana community must fall behind Bernie Sanders and help him get the Democratic nomination. Now that we have seen the first few states achieve legalization, and with many more around the corner, it is time to move the conversation from legalization to equalization.
Bernie has said that he'll continue to flesh out his position in the coming months, and I look forward to seeing what his campaign comes up with. Here are some concrete examples of actions we need him to take as a Senator, which would help solidify our community's support in his campaign for President.
- Sign on as a Co-Sponsor for the CARERS Act
- Sign on as a Co-Sponsor for the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act
- Sign on as a Co-Sponsor for Small Business Tax Equity Act
- Sign on as a Co-Sponsor for the Industrial Hemp Farming Act
I believe that with enough organizing that the marijuana reform movement can get Sanders to move on these legislative priorities, and bring much needed attention to the legal hurdles that face cannabis businesses at the national level. The cannabis industry is the fastest growing industry in the U.S., but remains frozen out of banking and is taxed at higher levels than any other sector of our economy. This creates a significant public safety issue, and stifles the creation of thousands of living wage jobs at a time when too many Americans are without work.
So let's get to work.
There are three ways that we as marijuana activists can make our presence known to the Sanders campaign in a way that is both helpful to the campaign and to our movement.
This is how Bernie's campaign has managed to gain as much traction as it already has. The power of the internet as a organizing tool is still underestimated by the traditional political/media power structures. Each one of us is our own media network and we have the ability to inform those around us, without having to rely on corporate media.
Like, comment and share any pro-Bernie stuff coming up in your Facebook news feed, this helps the content be seen by more people in your extended network. Be sure to "like" his Facebook page, and participate in the conversation on there as well.
Follow @BernieSanders on Twitter and retweet his tweets that talk mention marijuana or criminal justice reform, like these:
Follow @BernieSanders on Instagram and comment on the pictures his campaign posts, thanking him for talking about marijuana on that campaign trail. This can help to spark a conversation among other followers of his account. He is also on Periscope quite often, which is another great place to interact with his campaign.
Also, please like the Cannabis Advocates for Bernie Facebook page. This will be a great resource for our community to organize around.
Don't forget to share this article on all our social networks, using the hashtags #YesHeCann and #FeelTheBern
A grassroots campaign like Bernie's is dependent on their volunteer staff. I think the grassroots, underdog nature of the Sanders' campaign lends itself well to marijuana activists who are used to doing a lot with very little.
As a community we should be actively involved in volunteering in this campaign. Do you live in one of the early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina?
None of those states currently have legal marijuana, but you could make a difference by volunteering with the campaign and talking to the other volunteers about why you support Bernie. One of the best things we can do as a community is to start to assimilate into other non-cannabis groups. Show the public that you are a regular voter and that you support marijuana legalization.
If you want to sign up to volunteer, do so here.
Simply put, Bernie Sanders is not being bankrolled by big money in this campaign. He is completely dependent on small contributions, with over 300,000 people giving an average of around $31.
In an age of big money dominating our political system, the only way his campaign is able to withstand the onslaught of campaign spending from his opponents is with the help of ordinary people like us.
If you can afford it, send him a little something. You can donate online here, or you can mail a check to his campaign at:
PO Box 905
Burlington, Vermont 05402
If his campaign received a couple thousand small donations via snail mail with hand written notes about your support for his campaign due to his stance on marijuana, you can guarantee that they will be paying attention.
The marijuana reform movement has been slowly gaining political credibility over the last few years, but if we could help put a candidate into the White House, there would be no doubt that 2016 will be tipping point for marijuana legalization nationwide.