Why I Changed My Stance on Marijuana

The American system of government works best when states are allowed to serve as the laboratories of democracy, as the founders intended. What works best for the citizens of New York, my home state, or Washington may not work for residents of Kansas or Indiana. When it comes to legalization of marijuana for medicinal use, I have long believed that each state should be allowed to implement a system that works best for its residents. After much thought and very careful consideration, I have come to believe that the same is true of legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Much like my own personal views on this issue have evolved, it is clear that the American people no longer view marijuana with as much skepticism as they once did. When I first came to Congress in 1981, only 1 in 4 Americans believed marijuana should be made legal. Today, that number has climbed to nearly two thirds, a record high. Since 2012, nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults. Recreational use of marijuana is decriminalized in another 13 states while 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized it for medical use.

When looking at the support for legalization that clearly exists across wide swaths of the American population, it is difficult to make sense of our existing laws. Under current federal law, marijuana is treated as though it’s as dangerous as heroin and more dangerous than cocaine.

A staggering number of American citizens, a disproportionate number of whom are African-American and Latino, continue to be arrested every day for something that most Americans agree should not be a crime. Meanwhile, those who are entering into the marijuana market in states that have legalized are set to make a fortune. This is not only misguided, but it undermines the basic principles of fairness and equal opportunity that are foundational to the American way of life.

That is why I am not only announcing my support for decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level. I am also announcing that in the coming weeks, I will be introducing legislation aimed at achieving this goal. This legislation will allow each state to ultimately decide how they will treat marijuana. In addition to freeing up the residents of each state to make the decisions on what’s best for them, the bill will make targeted investments which are necessary to protect public health and safety and ensure that members of all communities are able to participate in the new and thriving marijuana economy.

A bipartisan group of Senators are already working to tackle sentencing and criminal justice reform so our drug laws catch up to the realities of the world we live in today. I hope my decriminalization plan will do the same. Over the next few months I hope that I will have your support as I work to bring Democrats and Republicans together to better serve their constituents and support the rights of Americans to freely and safely use marijuana as they please.