When it comes to the Democratic presidential candidates for 2016, they are in “play to the base” mode. This is where they hype Democratic issues in anticipation for the primaries. And if you’re looking for a popular issue to hype to progressives nationwide, marijuana law reform is the one.
It has everything Democrats love: it appeals to young voters, it gets lots of media attention, and Republicans usually aren’t fans of it. So when the first Democrat debate rolled around last week, cannabis made it front and center as a topic of discussion.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders — with less to lose and more of a need to make a splash in front of a national audience — went the furthest when it comes to changing cannabis laws. Sanders was asked specifically about voting on marijuana legalization in the state of Nevada, where it will be on the ballot next year.
“I suspect I would vote yes,” he said. “And I would vote yes because I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for non-violent 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've got a lot of work to do in that area.”
Hillary Clinton — the one with the most to lose — wouldn’t take a position on recreational legalization, showing there is still a lot of hesitation when it comes to cannabis in the Democratic Party. A stigma remains that the Dem frontrunner doesn’t want to touch, although she does support medical marijuana, an issue that polls over 80% favorability in many states.
All in all, it’s a start — a few steps on the long road that ends with cannabis being mainstream and as accepted as alcohol.