With the third Republican presidential debate taking place in Colorado, the topic of marijuana is almost inevitable. But Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders beat GOP contenders to the punch on the pot question on Wednesday, announcing his own plan to legalize the substance at a campaign event in Fairfax, Virg.
The Vermont senator called for marijuana to be removed from the federal government's list of most dangerous drugs (it is currently listed as a schedule 1 drug by the DEA, the most severe category) and said states should be given more power to regulate it.
"Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use," he said. "That's wrong. That has got to change."
Sanders hinted at his support for marijuana legalization at the Democratic debate aired on CNN on October 13. When asked how he would vote on a bill in Nevada to legalize recreational marijuana, he responded, "I suspect I would vote yes." He added, "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, we we've got a lot of work to do in that area."
Fellow debater and Democratic contender Hillary Clinton was more careful in her response.
"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. 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," she said. "So, I think we're just at the beginning, but I agree completely with the idea that we have got to stop imprisoning people who use marijuana."
Clinton has said she has never smoked marijuana. Sanders has said he has, though he didn't like it. A number of candidates -- including Wednesday's GOP debaters -- have admitted to giving the green stuff a try (we're looking at you, Jeb Bush).
All jokes aside, marijuana legalization is becoming an increasingly important issue across the United States, as is dealing with the millions of dollars generated by the pot industry in states where it is legal, like Colorado.
Because marijuana is still federally outlawed, banks -- which are subject to federal regulation -- cannot accept funds generated by the sector. The scenario has forced marijuana into an all-cash corner and led many in the business to come up with some pretty creative solutions to get around it.
Last week, the U.S. Federal Reserve asked a judge in Denver to dismiss a lawsuit from Fourth Corner Credit Union, a credit union set up last year seeking bank charter for Colorado's marijuana businesses.
"Even transporting or transmitting funds known to have been derived from the distribution of marijuana is illegal," said a motion filed in the U.S. District Court in Denver. The document also drew a perhaps extreme parallel between providing banking services to Colorado's legal marijuana industry and engaging in trade activities with North Korea.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.