Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, says the federal government should get out of the way of states that want to legalize marijuana.
“What the federal government can do is say to the state of Colorado that if you choose to vote to legalize marijuana, we will allow you to do that without restrictions,” he said in an interview with Little Village, a public affairs program on PATV in Iowa City.
Sanders, currently a U.S. senator, pointed to difficulties that state-legal marijuana sellers have accessing financial services as an example of how the federal government impedes the implementation of local laws.
“In Colorado people who run marijuana shops can’t put their money in banks,” he said. “That’s a violation of federal law. So I think there are things that the federal government can do that would make it easier for states that want to go in that direction to be able to do so.”
Earlier in the interview with reporter Stacey Walker, which was taped on September 4, Sanders raised concerns about broader criminal justice issues, including mandatory minimum sentencing and private prisons. “To keep people out of jail I think we want to take a hard look at the war on drugs,” he said. “We want to make sure that we’re not ruining people’s lives because they were caught with some marijuana, for example.”
Sanders also reiterated his support for medical cannabis and his home state of Vermont’s marijuana decriminalization law, adding that his campaign will have more to say about the broader issue of full legalization soon.
“We’re exploring the pluses and minuses — of which there are both — of moving more aggressively on that issue. It is a very important issue. We’re watching what Colorado is doing, and we’ll have more to say about that in the coming weeks and months.”
Characterizing marijuana legalization as “important” signals that Sanders is taking it more seriously as a growing number of states change their laws and the issue gains prominence in mainstream political discourse.
In contrast, in early 2014 he told TIME that “it’s not that I support it or don’t support it. To me it is not one of the major issues facing this country.”
Click here to find out what else Sanders and other presidential candidates have said about marijuana law reform.