Bernie Sanders talks pot laws to George Mason students

Suzanne Ciechalski, Opinion Editor

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders appealed for an end to federal prohibition of marijuana as he spoke to college students at George Mason University last week.

Focusing on the steep number of arrests that strict marijuana laws have led to, Sanders argued for regulation of pot in the same way that tobacco and alcohol are regulated by the federal government.

More than half of all drug related arrests were for marijuana possession in 2014 according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In relation to these arrests, Sanders also addressed the fact that federal prohibition of marijuana can be affected by racial disparity.

According to the ACLU, black men and women are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white men and women, despite the fact that both use marijuana at the same rate.

Although a largely divisive issue, states have slowly begun legalizing the drug for both recreational and medicinal purposes.

Sophomore Andrew Klawitter is a large supporter of the legalization, and believes it can have some great economic benefits.

“For supporters, recreational use would become legal and for those against, taxes could be instituted to even drive up cost, and possibly pay off debts from the government,” he said. “It seems like a win-win to me.”

Sanders is the first major presidential candidate in the 2016 race to openly support the full decriminalization of marijuana in the United States. Fellow Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton expressed that she would like to see the effects of legalization studied in states where it has already been legalized before promoting a plan that would either end federal prohibition or continue it.

On the other hand, Martin O’Malley, like Sanders, has said that he would consider “loosening” marijuana restrictions. He has not, however, thrown support behind the movement to fully legalize it.

“Instead of locking people away for something that is so common and statistically does not harm people as much as alcohol, Sanders is the only candidate who is smart enough to acknowledge the usefulness of legalization,” Klawiter said.