Candidates Talk Legal Pot, Criminal Justice Reform and More at Fourth Democratic Debate

At the fourth Democratic presidential debate on Sunday, Bernie Sanders, who is cutting into Hillary Clinton’s lead, criticized current drug policies for incarcerating non-violent pot offenders rather than using that same money for social and economic programs. 

“We need to invest in jobs and education, not jails,” Sanders said.

The Vermont senator framed the issue in the context of racial injustice, inequality and mass incarceration, asking why pot arrests are clogging the jail system while the bankers who ruined the economy have never been arrested.

“I find it strange that the kid who smokes marijuana gets arrested but the crooks on Wall Street get off scot free,” he said.

Hillary Clinton, in keeping with her party’s position, does not support legalization but does support the states’ right to decide. Clinton has said she believes marijuana should be reclassified from a Schedule I to Schedule II drug.  

Bernie Sanders would like to remove marijuana from the list altogether and lift the federal ban on pot, allowing states to regulate for themselves, like tobacco and alcohol.

Their comments on Sunday about drug addiction were similar.

Hillary Clinton: “We have to move away from treating the use of drugs as a crime and, instead, move it to where it belongs, as a health issue. And we need to divert more people from the criminal justice system into drug courts, into treatment and recovery.”

Bernie Sanders: “When we talk about addiction being a disease, the secretary is right. What that means is we need a revolution in this country in terms of mental health treatment.”

Speaking of the country’s criminal justice system, which Sanders called “broken,” Clinton noted that there is a disproportionate number of black and Latinos behind bars.

“One out of three African-American men may well end up going to prison. That's the statistic. I want people here to think what we would be doing if it was one out of three white men,” she said.

Of course, it's worth noting that according to the Intercepttwo major prison companies are serving as top fundraisers for Clinton's campaign,

The future of both criminal justice reform and immigration are critical for private prison firms whose fortunes could change significantly if there were fewer people to lock up.

Long-shot candidate Martin O’Malley, who decriminalized small amounts of pot as governor of Maryland, took a similar stance as his opponents.

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