Democratic presidential candidate and Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill Wednesday to end the federal prohibition on marijuana, the first such bill to ever be introduced in the Senate, according to marijuana legalization advocates.
Sanders went farther than any other presidential candidate last week on the question of ending the drug war when he called for lifting the federal ban on marijuana, and he followed up this week by introducing a bill in the Senate to remove marijuana from the federal government's list of Schedule I drugs, which includes other illegal substances such as heroin and LSD.
“It is absurd that it is compared to, or treated, the same way as heroin is,” Sanders told The Daily Beast Tuesday.
Last week, Sanders told an audience of college students that ending marijuana prohibition was essential to ending racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
“Although about the same proportion of blacks and whites use marijuana, a black person is almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person,” Sanders said. “Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use.”
Marijuana legalization advocates praised Sanders' bill.
“This is the first time a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition has been introduced in the U.S. Senate," Tom Angell, the chairman of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority, told BuzzFeed News. "A growing majority of Americans want states to be able to enact their own marijuana laws without harassment from the DEA, and lawmakers should listen."
The bill would not legalize marijuana, but rather leave its legal status up to individual states. It would ban interstate transport of marijuana, but it is still the most wide-sweeping marijuana bill to be introduced in the Senate, which is traditionally more reserved than the House on this issue.
Sen. Rand Paul, who is running for the Republican nomination for president, joined Democratic senators Corey Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand in introducing a bill earlier this year that would lift the federal ban on medical marijuana.
For the past several years, a coalition of Democrats and Republicans in the House have pushed amendments into spending bills blocking the Justice Department from using resources to prosecute medical marijuana businesses and cultivators in states that have legalized the drug for medical purposes.