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Advice

Letter to the Editor: Bernie Sanders Makes Case That Marijuana Is Not Heroin

On November 4, 2015, presidential candidate Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced to the Senate a bill that would remove marijuana from the federal "most dangerous" substances list.

Currently the US Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the same designation it gives to heroin, LSD and ecstasy. (It designates cocaine a Schedule 2 substance - less "dangerous.") Justifiably, Sanders has labeled marijuana's classification "absurd." His bill would remove marijuana from this list.  

"The bill would not permit the transportation of marijuana across state lines. ...

"Under Sanders’ plan, marijuana would not automatically become legal. Rather, states would have the right to decide whether or not they want to legalize the drug – without fear of federal impediment. In effect, states would inherit the power to regulate marijuana in the same way state and local laws now govern the sale of alcohol and tobacco." (theguardian.com, Nov. 4, 2015)

As of this writing, four states - Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska - and the District of Columbia have made recreational and medical use of marijuana legal. But until recently, the federal government has actively sought to prosecute marijuana distributors in states that had permitted recreational or medical use, citing violation of federal law.

This policy of the Obama administration was responsible for the demise in Santa Barbara of the Green Well medical marijuana dispensary on Milpas Street. The two young men who founded the dispensary had bent over backward both to comply with city regulations  - California had permitted municipalities to govern the process - and to cooperate with local police. They were illegally targeted by the city when municipal regulation requiring 500-foot distance from schools was changed to 600 feet. Justifiably, the young men sought legally to resist enforcement of this ex post facto regulation, but they could not stand up to threatened prosecution by the federal government and so closed the facility that had cost them $400,000 to create and maintain.

Subsequently - of no help to them, of course - the Obama administration changed policy; it no longer seeks to prosecute marijuana dispensers in states that have made this legal.

Senator Sanders' bill would assure that current administration policy becomes federal law. Otherwise any future president could unilaterally resume Obama's former practice.

Sanders has said that as president, if no such law is in place, he would himself see that marijuana is removed from the Schedule. No other candidate to date has taken this stance.

Candidate Martin O'Malley has said he would place marijuana lower on the agency list. Candidate Hillary Clinton has taken a "wait and see" attitude - what else is new - saying she would decide after evaluating the result of legalized marijuana in the relevant states..

According to a recent Gallup poll, 58% of Americans would like to see marijuana legalized.

William Smithers
Santa Barbara

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