Santorum on Sanders’s Rise: Drug Reform Helps

The politics of marijuana are changing, and even ardent opponents know it.

Speaking to group of voters in Iowa on Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was asked about the excitement and crowds being generated by Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.

“He’s appealing to young people,” Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, said. “When you go out and say you’re gonna legalize drugs and do all sorts of great stuff, you get people showing up at your events.”

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To be clear, while Sanders did write in 1972 that we should “abolish all laws dealing with…drugs,” he hasn’t recently called for the legalization of any drugs, not even marijuana. But he has repeatedly said on the campaign trail this year that the war on drugs is a failure that needs to be addressed. Sanders, currently a U.S. senator from Vermont, also says he supports his home state’s laws that have decriminalized possession of marijuana and made medical cannabis available to patients, and he has called for the federal government to let states legalize marijuana “without restrictions.”

Sanders has indicted that he will come out with a broad marijuana reform proposal soon, and many advocates expect that it will include an endorsement of legalization.

Santorum, on the other hand, has called marijuana “a hazardous thing for society” and has offered conflicting positions over time on whether the federal government should interfere with state laws.

But his recent comments seem to acknowledge that opposing legalization is out of step with where the country is headed on marijuana.

Whereas marijuana legalization and drug policy reform were once widely seen as dangerous third rails of politics to be avoided at all costs, polling now shows that a growing majority of Americans support ending cannabis prohibition and supermajorities support medical marijuana and letting states set their own laws without federal interference. And support for marijuana law reform is particularly high among younger voters: One survey showed that even when looking at Republicans alone, 63 percent of millennials support legalization.

As Sanders continues to generate positive press attention and voter support for his increasingly bold marijuana reform positions, it is likely that other candidates will take note and follow suit.

Click here to see what else Santorum, Sanders and other 2016 presidential candidates have said about marijuana law reform.

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