Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at the 22 Annual Women’s Conference organized by the Democratic National Committee. Sanders is expected to roll out a proposal to liberalize pot laws at the federal level, a move that’s both in sync with his prison reform platform and a challenge to his liberal and Libertarian opponents. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders is expected to call for a significant shift in federal marijuana policy on Wednesday, the same night as the GOP debate. The proposal is deceptively simple: stop listing cannabis on America’s catalogue of dangerous drugs, but the implications are huge. If Cannabis sativa were taken off of the so-called federal drug “schedule,” it would largely leave marijuana legalization to the states. Even in states where marijuana is legal, the Drug Enforcement Agency still has authority to disrupt sales. Because of national regulations, local pot-distributing business can’t use normal banking systems. The list of logistical snags goes on.

“The time is long overdue for us to take marijuana off the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs," Sanders told the Washington Post in remarks prepared by his campaign. "In my view, states should have the right to regulate marijuana the same way that state and local laws now govern sales of alcohol and tobacco."

Sanders has hinted at his lack of enthusiasm for marijuana laws in the past, often woven into his rallying cries against economic injustice and for prison reform. Here’s Sanders addressing this indirectly, in a speech rallying against impunity in the finance industry on Oct. 6th.

“It is an obscenity that people in this country are getting arrested at near record rates for smoking marijuana, but not one Wall Street CEO has been prosecuted for triggering the Great Recession in 2008,” Sanders said in a statement.

Over 50 percent of federal inmates are in jail on marijuana charges (sometime in combination with other crimes), according to the Huffington Post , while so-called “white collar” crimes run in the single digits.

Bernie Sanders’ pot proposal will put him further to the left of his Democratic primary opponents Hillary Clinton (who wants no immediate change) and Martin O’Malley (who has proposed moving marijuana to a lesser list).

It could also poach supporters from the Republican field, where Libertarian GOP candidates like Rand Paul who competes with Dems for young, pro-pot voters.

“I’m not here to advocate for marijuana,” Paul told Colorado college students ahead of Wednesday’s GOP debate, according to John Frank of the Denver Post . “But I’m here to advocate for freedom. And you know what, if I’m president I’m going to leave Colorado the hell alone.”

Tonight, Sanders will advocate for pot. In states like Colorado, his pro-marijuana speech might steal attention from the Republican stage.

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