Bernie Sanders Says Yes to Recreational Cannabis While Hillary Clinton Needs More Research

The 2016 United States presidential election is still in its formative stages, with dozens of candidates still in the running and just over one year to Election Day. With a zoo of candidates, and voter bases largely unsatisfied with elected officials currently in office, the primary debates are a venue for candidates from both parties to shine and distinguish themselves as the leader of the pack.

On the minds and tongues of cannabis advocates around the nation is a major question for the candidates: Do you support cannabis legalization, and how will you go about implementing it?

The Republicans? Well…they didn’t mention cannabis one single time during their initial debate on Fox. So for a cannabis business publication like us, there wasn’t much to report on.

Democrats are a different story – as the “progressive” party between the two, one of the five participating candidates was bound to (and frankly, expected to) mention the plant at least once during their first debate on Tuesday night, hosted and mediated by a patient and inquisitive Anderson Cooper.

Unfortunately, the topic of cannabis didn’t get nearly as much airtime as it warrants, but it was spoken about, and there are important points for cannabis-friendly voters to take away from the comments made last night.

Making Points

Bernie Sanders was the first candidate to be questioned on cannabis legalization, specifically regarding Nevada’s upcoming recreational initiative. When asked hypothetically if he would vote to legalize it as a Nevada citizen, he replied:

“I suspect I would vote yes. [Applause] And – I would vote yes – because I am seeing in this country, too many lives being destroyed from nonviolent offenses. We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away, and yet we are imprisoning or giving jail sentences to 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; we need to rethink our criminal justice system, and we have a lot of work to do on that.”

Though her husband is famous for once saying he tried marijuana but “didn’t inhale” on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton waffled a bit on the issue of legalization, chalking it up to a states’ rights issue and refusing to elaborate on her former position, that cannabis is a gateway drug, saying that we simply need more research. When asked if she would change her position on legalizing cannabis, after seeing what’s happened in Colorado and Washington, Clinton stated:

“No. I think that we have the opportunity through the states that are pursuing recreational marijuana to find out a lot more than we know today.

I do support the use of medical marijuana, and I think even there we need to do a lot more research so that we know exactly how we’re going to help people for whom medical marijuana provides relief.

So, I think we’re just at the beginning, but 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 we don’t have this terrible result that Senator Sanders was talking about: when we have a huge population in our prisons for nonviolent, low-level offenses that are primarily due to marijuana.”

Though only two out of the five candidates on stage were given a chance to address the topic, it’s still a milestone for cannabis to even be mentioned at a mainstream, televised presidential debate, and more pressing questions can be expected throughout the year.

Other than the briefly mentioned cannabis issue, popular topics among all candidates included the need to address income equality and raise the minimum wage, the dire threat of global climate change, and the conflict in Syria. Stances on wartime strategy were certainly diverse and comprised most of the arguments. The majority of the candidates dismissed Hillary Clinton’s email scandal as a petty distraction from real world and domestic issues.

What About The Other Guys?

As for the Republicans, cannabis reform is evidently still a non-issue as the party’s various candidates focus on issues like immigration and military involvement in Syria, but a couple of hopefuls from the GOP have come out with brief statements on the subject.

In particular, Chris Christie has been known for slamming cannabis legalization throughout these early days of the race, while popular underdog Ben Carson has admitted his anti-legalization stance is unpopular with younger voters, but stood by his convictions, even adding that he supports a Big Pharma takeover of the medical cannabis industry. Even to a vague drug war skeptic, that probably really hurts. Ouch.

So Who Won?

Regardless, out of the two candidates who had a chance to comment, Sanders had the most solid answer. You can bet that cannabis activists will remember his unequivocal surety in saying “yes” to legalization, while Hillary scrambled to think of benign talking points.

What do you think? Was there enough attention brought to cannabis and the drug war during this Democratic presidential debate? Sound off in the comments.

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