Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) says it “worries” him that students frequently bring up marijuana issues at his public appearances, like during a recent visit to a high school in Vermont where he was asked about President Joe Biden’s cannabis pardons announcement.
When an audience member brought up the clemency action at Wednesday’s event at Mount Anthony Union High School, it was met with applause and laughter from the student crowd, but Sanders “frowned upon” the reaction, according to The Bennington Banner.
The pro-legalization senator said that although “not a great fan of drugs and alcohol,” he nonetheless believes marijuana should be “legal in every state in this country.”
However, he said that the routine enthusiasm for cannabis legalization that he hears from underage youth “worries me, to tell you the truth.”
There doesn’t appear to be video available of Sanders’s remarks, and local press reports didn’t quote him expanding on the concern. But he did separately said that he feels “these kids are a lot more savvy than many adults think” about other key issues like climate change, higher education and health care.
While the senator and former presidential candidate might have his worries, it’s also the case that multiple studies have found that marijuana legalization is not associated with increased youth use, despite prohibitionist arguments. In fact, some research has found that regulating cannabis is linked to decreased underage consumption.
Perceptions of the risks of marijuana have gradually decreased among young people over time, however.
In any case, Sanders didn’t avoid the audience member’s question at the high school on Wednesday. He said that “we are moving actually in that direction [to legalize] state by state” and the “federal government can, and should, play a role in that process,” VTDigger reported.
He also drew a distinction between cannabis and other drugs like opioids.
“Heroin is a killer drug. Fentanyl is even worse, and fentanyl sometimes gets mixed in with the heroin,” the senator said. “Marijuana is not heroin, it is not fentanyl, it should be not lumped together.”
That’s also a point that Biden made this month when he announced federal cannabis pardons and directed an administrative review of the scheduling of marijuana, which is currently a Schedule I drug in the same category as heroin and even more strictly controlled than fentanyl.
Last year, Sanders said that Biden could and should use executive authority to end federal marijuana prohibition on his own—but the two of them have “differences” when it comes to drug policy.
“Joe Biden and I on marijuana—I think the war on drugs has been just a disaster for this country, for the African-American community,” he said. “I think it should end. I think marijuana should be legalized. We do [could] that fairly simply. But yeah, so we have differences.”
A key difference comes down that matter of legalization. While Biden has received significant praise for issuing the pardon proclamation and setting the stage for a possible change to cannabis scheduling, he remains opposed to federally legalizing marijuana.
Instead, the president has said that he supports decriminalization and letting states set their own cannabis policies.
“I have long believed that marijuana should be legalized and those arrested for possession should be pardoned and have their records expunged,” Sanders said following Biden’s recent clemency action. “The President’s executive action today is an important step forward, but much more needs to be done.”
I have long believed that marijuana should be legalized and those arrested for possession should be pardoned and have their records expunged. The President’s executive action today is an important step forward, but much more needs to be done.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) October 6, 2022
In a press release, Sanders’s office didn’t shy away from the marijuana issue, listing it among others that he discussed with students during the high school Q&A this week.
“Hearing from these young Vermonters today gives me a lot of hope,” the senator said. “As a state and a country, we face some terrible and difficult crises. But this next generation is paying attention. They are standing up, they are fighting for their communities, and making their voices heard. And that is no small thing.”
“They should be deeply proud of who they are and I am glad to see them get involved in the political process,” he said. “Together we are going to build a state and nation to be proud of and protect our planet for future generations.”