One burning question on some voters’ minds was put to rest during the first Democratic debate, hosted by CNN and Facebook Tuesday night in Las Vegas: What would the top candidates do when it comes to legalizing marijuana.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who commands the liberal left with his economic policy positions, said he would vote in favor of a local Nevada measure that would legalize recreational pot use.
“I would vote yes because I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for non-violent offenses,” he said. “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.”
For former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the answer was hazier.
Asked if she was ready to take a position on legalizing recreational marijuana, she replied, “No.”
“I think that we have the opportunity through the states that are pursuing recreational marijuana to find out a lot more than we know today,” she said. “I do support the use of medical marijuana, and I think even there we need to do a lot more research so that we know exactly how we’re going to help people for whom medical marijuana provides relief.”
But Clinton said she agreed with Sanders on reforming the criminal justice system when it comes to punishment for pot.
“We have got to stop imprisoning people who use marijuana,” she said. “Therefore, we need more states, cities, and the federal government to begin to address this so that we don’t have this terrible result that Senator Sanders was talking about where we have a huge population in our prisons for nonviolent, low-level offenses that are primarily due to marijuana.”
Both answers, however, mark just how far the political conversation surrounding marijuana has come since 2008.
Tom Angell, chairman of the pro-pot group Marijuana Majority, said, “Legalization is at the forefront of mainstream American politics, and politicians are starting to treat it as such.”
“As a point of reference, in 2008 no major candidate even supported decriminalization when asked in a debate, and our movement had to chase them around New Hampshire and repeatedly harass them just to garner pledges to stop federal raids on state-legal medical marijuana patients,” he said.