Is Hell freezing over? Or did MSNBC just call out the Democrats?
Marijuana had a major moment at the Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday night, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders coming close to endorsing legalization, which is something no major candidate has so far been willing to do.
But as he explained his position – which drew multiple rounds of applause – he strayed from the facts, repeating a long-debunked myth about prisons overflowing with marijuana offenders. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stayed neutral on legalization, but made the same mistake as Sanders as she tried to connect marijuana legalization to prison reform.
CNN’s Juan Carlos Lopez set up the exchange by referencing the legalization movement in Nevada, one of at least a half dozen states that could follow Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska in creating a regulated marijuana market.
“Sen. Sanders, right here in Nevada, there will be a measure to legalize recreational marijuana on the 2016 ballot,” said Cooper. “If you were a Nevada resident, how would you vote?”
“I suspect I would vote yes,” Sanders said.
The room erupted in applause. But Sanders, who has admitted to smoking pot in the past, based his position on a hoary old lie that marijuana prohibition is a major contributor to America’s overcrowded prison system.
“And I would vote yes because I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for non-violent offenses,” Sanders said. “We are imprisoning or giving jail sentences to young people who are smoking marijuana.”
That’s not true, according to prison records compiled by the authors of “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know,” published in 2012 by Oxford University Press. The book is the work of four scholars who collectively bring nearly 70 years of experience to the issue.
They found that about 700,000 people are arrested on possession charges every year, a large number to be sure. But virtually none of those folks end up in prison. In fact, fewer than 400 people are serving state or federal sentences for marijuana possession alone, and many of those people plead down to that charge, or have serious histories of violence, the authors concluded.
…Again, there is not a legion of pot smokers or even pot dealers in prison primarily due to marijuana, according to the best available data. There are a lot of people in this country behind bars for other drug charges, but if Sanders and Clinton are ready to consider legalizing all drugs, they have yet to say it.
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