Bernie Sanders announced Wednesday he supports removing marijuana from the federal government's list of outlawed drugs.
"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," Sanders said in a speech at George Mason University, citing a recent FBI report that noted someone is arrested on marijuana charges every minute in United States.
Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive designation, reserved for drugs that have "no currently accepted medical use."
Sanders' Democratic rival for the presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, has said she would like to see how legalization works out in states like Colorado and Washington ("laboratories of democracy," as she called them) before she takes a position on what should happen at the federal level.
Martin O'Malley has said he would like to see marijuana reassigned to the less restrictive Schedule II.
"We have 2.2 million people in jail today, more than any other country," Sanders said Wednesday. "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."
Under Sanders' proposal, states would be free to legalize marijuana without the threat of federal prosecution, but federal agents would still be empowered to arrest and prosecute people involved in illegal sales.
Businesses that sold marijuana would be able to participate in the banking system, and their profits would be taxable.
There have been a number of pushes over the last four decades to remove marijuana from Schedule I. The first was spearheaded by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in 1972.
Sanders' proposal was cheered by legalization proponents. Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs for Drug Policy Action, the political arm of Drug Policy Alliance, tells Rolling Stone his organization has been working closely with Sanders' Senate office over the last several months on a bill that would end federal marijuana prohibition, which he expects the senator to introduce as early as this week.
"Marijuana reform was already moving forward in Congress, but we expect this bill to give reform efforts a big boost," Collins says.