On the pot issue, candidates should be listening to their constituents

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Marijuana is all the rage these days. Everybody is saying it’s going to be a major campaign issue in 2016, as citizens in many states contemplate initiatives and begin to collect signatures to legalize medical and/or recreational cannabis.

Every presidential candidate is being grilled about it, and each has a different take. On the Republican side Rand Paul supports medical marijuana, access to banking services and the right for states to make their own choices. Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and Lindsey Graham would be open to legalizing medical but not recreational marijuana. Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Rick Santorum oppose legalization of any kind, while Carly Fiorina stops at anything beyond decriminalization.

Personally, I’m still pulling for Chris Christie to become the Republican candidate, because I want the opportunity to witness a president leading federal troops into four states and the District of Columbia to enforce cannabis laws and imprison hundreds of thousands of Coloradans for growing, selling and partaking.

On a more serious note, Bernie Sanders fired the first real salvo into the campaign on Oct. 30 by introducing the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act in the Senate. It would remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances and allow states to run their own medical or recreational programs without interference from the DEA or anybody else above. It stops short of legalizing it nationwide, but it would send the message that marijuana should be controlled like alcohol.

One week later Hillary Clinton proposed that cannabis be moved from Schedule I to Schedule II under the pretense that it would make it easier to do research on medical marijuana here. It’s a symbolic gesture. Schedule II includes drugs like cocaine, oxycodone and methamphetamine, all with a high potential for abuse, and keeping cannabis in the same league also keeps Drug-War funding in place. Clinton is tonedeaf to the idea of legalization but tolerant of states that have, so she has been forced to move about half a decimal point to the left.

The thing that fascinates me the most is that Sanders continues to be categorized as “radical,” but this proposal, like much of what he champions, is much more in line with what voters are seeking than “mainstream” politicians like Clinton or the Republicans who go out of their way to appease their base. His cannabis plan is pretty conventional, especially as more Americans join the legalization bandwagon. It’s not that he’s radical; it’s that he’s more in touch with voters than the other candidates as well as the media that cover them.

On a hemispheric level, the U.S. is being symbolically squeezed from both directions. Up north, the new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, an admitted recreational cannabis user, won on a platform that included legalizing marijuana. His party holds a majority in the House of Commons, and polls indicate citizen support is about the same as here.

Perhaps even more incredible, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled on Nov. 4 that individuals have a right to consume and cultivate marijuana. The decision only legally affects the plaintiffs in one case, but it sets a precedent that could lead to a country that decriminalized possession of all drugs in 2009 to now allow consumption of cannabis.

The judges sent a strong message. “The responsible decision taken to experiment with the effects of this substance — whatever personal harm it might do,” they wrote, “belongs within the autonomy of the individual, protected by their freedom to develop themselves.”

Yet here in the U.S., the War on Drugs continues. A 68-year-old former physician faces five felonies after sheriff ’s deputies in Buncombe County, North Carolina found 30 cannabis plants in his rented garage.

Gordon Piland, who calls himself a naturopath, has a medical license but lost it in the 1980s when police found marijuana plants during a raid. He provides cannabis to cancer patients, and since he is already well-known to authorities and the plants were in his garage, this is more about politics than law enforcement.

Such a waste. What Piland is doing is against the law in North Carolina, but really, should a 68-yearold be facing the rest of his life in prison for doing something that is legal in many states and does no harm to anyone else? And should the state be spending $30,000 a year to incarcerate him? Most of us would answer no to both questions. But among all those presidential candidates, only the “radical” Bernie Sanders seems to be listening.

You can hear Leland discuss his most recent column and Colorado cannabis issues each Thursday morning on KGNU. http://news.kgnu.org/weed