Trailing Bernie: The Bern supports the right to burn

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Sen. Bernie Sanders made a strong case to college students Wednesday on why they should help make him President Bernie Sanders.

The 74-year-old democratic socialist hosted a nationwide town hall meeting for college student from George Mason University Wednesday. Students gathered at 250 places in all 50 states.

His message was one designed to be appealing to millennials, a particularly fickle group of voters that often do not make it to the polls. Sanders, in a potentially ground-breaking announcement, told the students that he would seek the removal of marijuana from the federal government’s list of controlled substances.

“In the United States we have 2.2 million people in jail today, more than any other country. And we’re spending about $80 billion a year to lock people up. We need major changes in our criminal justice system – including changes in drug laws,” Sanders said.

He cited a recent FBI report showing that an American is arrested every minute for charges related to marijuana. Under Sanders’ plan, federal law enforcement would still be able to arrest and prosecute people for dealing and trafficking marijuana. But Sanders would allow states to regulate weed similar to alcohol and tobacco.

“Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That’s wrong. That has got to change,” he said.

That means that in states that choose to legalize marijuana, residents would no longer face potential federal prosecution for using or possessing the drug. And regulated dispensaries would be allowed to use the U.S. banking system, which they are currently barred from doing.

The plan wouldn’t just impact college students, of course, but they are certainly a good demographic to make the pitch to.

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Has Sanders supported gay marriage for as long as he now claims? Time magazine reported Wednesday that Sanders’ record is more muddled than the senator has portrayed it to be.

According to Time, Sanders has opposed efforts to ban gay marriage since his time as the mayor of Burlington in the 1980s. But he did not speak out in favor of gay marriage until 2009.

And Sanders has changed his tune on why he opposed banning gay marriage. His wife and one-time chief of staff when Sanders was in the U.S. House, Jane Sanders, said in 1996 that he opposed such a ban because it would weaken the Constitution.

“We’re not legislating values. We have to follow the Constitution,” Jane Sanders said. “And anything that weakens the Constitution should be (addressed) by a constitutional amendment, not by a law passed by Congress.”

And when the Vermont Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that the state had to guarantee benefits to same-sex couples, which led to the state’s landmark civil unions law, Sanders still did not seize the opportunity to support gay marriage, Time reported.

The late Seven Days columnist, Peter Freyne, is quoted in the piece detailing his efforts to nail Sanders down on his position. In the end, Sanders would only say that he “supports the current process” in the Legislature to determine how the state would meet the order of the state’s highest court.

“Obtaining Congressman Bernie Sanders’ position on the gay marriage issue was like pulling teeth … from a rhinoceros,” Freyne wrote.

Sanders was generally evasive on the topic until 2009, when the Vermont Legislature voted to legalize gay marriage. It was vetoed by former Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, but lawmakers were able to override the veto. It was then that Sanders first backed gay marriage publicly, “years after many of his contemporaries in Vermont,” Time reported.

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