On Marijuana, Sanders Promises the Impossible, While Bloomberg Promises More of the Same

The former New York City mayor, who thinks legalizing pot is "one of the stupidest things we've ever done," nevertheless says "putting people in jail for marijuana" is "really dumb."


Michael Bloomberg, who as mayor of New York City presided over a dramatic surge in pot possession busts and last year called legalizing cannabis "perhaps the stupidest thing we've ever done," now says "putting people in jail for marijuana" is "really dumb." You might suspect that Bloomberg's turnaround on marijuana, like his sudden repudiation of the NYPD's "stop, question, and frisk" program after years of steadfastly defending it, has something to do with his entry into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. But his new position is morally incoherent, since he continues to support prohibition even while saying marijuana use should not be treated as a crime.

While Bloomberg was visiting Denver on Saturday, a reporter for the local NBC station noted his condemnation of marijuana legalization and asked, "Are the people of Colorado stupid for legalizing it?" Bloomberg's response:

The first thing is we shouldn't put anyone in jail over it. Colorado has a right to do what they want to do. I would advise going slowly to any other state because it's not clear, doctors aren't sure whether or not it's doing damage. If a state wants to do it, and Colorado and Washington were the first two that did it, that's up to the state. What I really object to is putting people in jail for marijuana. That's really dumb.

As long as producing and distributing cannabis remain illegal, of course, the government will still be "putting people in jail for marijuana," which according to Bloomberg is "really dumb." If people should not be arrested for marijuana use, as Bloomberg now claims to believe, it is hard to see why people should be arrested merely for facilitating marijuana use.

Since three-quarters of Democrats support marijuana legalization, Bloomberg's continued opposition puts him at odds with the primary voters he is counting on to secure his nomination. Except for former Vice President Joe Biden, all of the other Democratic presidential contenders favor repealing marijuana prohibition, not just keeping consumers out of jail or tolerating state-level legalization.

At the other extreme in the Democratic field is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is now promising that "on my first day in office through executive order we will legalize marijuana in every state in this country." That idea is legally impossible for at least three reasons.

First, while the executive branch has the authority to reclassify marijuana without new legislation, the process is rather complicated, involving consultation between the attorney general and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). After the department evaluates the merits of moving a drug to a different schedule based on a list of specified criteria, it makes a recommendation to the attorney general, who decides whether to initiate a rulemaking process. All of this obviously could not be accomplished on the first day of a Sanders administration (or even within the first few months), especially since he would not even have had a chance to appoint a new attorney general or HHS secretary.

Second, while the Controlled Substances Act lets the attorney general move marijuana from Schedule I to a less restrictive category, the statute's incorporation of treaty requirements seems to preclude removing marijuana from the schedules altogether without amending the law.

Third, even if Sanders could magically overcome those obstacles on his first day in office, the effect would be to repeal the federal ban on marijuana, which would not "legalize marijuana in every state." States would still be free to retain their own laws criminalizing the production, distribution, and possession of marijuana.

But at least Sanders' heart is in the right place on this issue, while Bloomberg's position is a moral muddle.

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  1. “‘What I really object to is putting people in jail for marijuana. That’s really dumb.””

    Bloomberg admits his policies were dumb. Sure, let’s elect this guy.

    1. I was for the drug war, till I was against the drug war at the same time as being for the drug war!

      But, now I have come around! Now, I was against the drug war, till I was FOR the drug war at the same time as being AGAINST the drug war!

      (If you can’t understand that, it must be because YOU are stupid!)

  2. I entered the Dem primaries, ’cause I was high
    Said I’d spend a billion to win, ’cause I was high
    Bought my way onto the debate stage and you know why

  3. the process is rather complicated, involving consultation between the attorney general and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

    The process doesn’t look that complicated to me. Course I’m not one of the tens of thousands of DC bureaucrats whose goal in life is to increase handle the complexities of bureaucracy so that a czar needs to be appointed with lifetime tenure to control the complexity and keep it from overwhelming us mere mortals.

    A simple executive order – ordering the Attorney General, Secy HHS, and Secy State (there’s an ‘intl treaty compliance’ part of that too) to ‘consult’ with each other as per the processes already in place. If they need some handy hints as to how this ‘consultation’ thing can occur, then perhaps said hints can be contained in the XO.

    For example – providing the telephone numbers of each of those in the XO. Providing advice as to how to use the telephone to contact those others to be consulted with. Providing an administrative intern who knows how to put areas of agreement onto a ‘piece of paper’ so that said people can ‘sign their names’ to that piece of paper signifying successful consultation. Providing a ‘conference table’ – should such consultation require face-to-face ‘meeting’ and/or doughnuts.

  4. No state and no politician in the Democrat Party or GOP are for legalization of marijuana and/or other illicit drugs.

    They have or might be for deregulation of those drugs.

    Unless you hear a politicians advocating repealing the Controlled Substances Act or making drugs as legal as apparel, then they are discussing deregulation of drugs and usually high taxation above other legalized products on the market.

    1. If anything, they’ve increased regulation on it. Prior to legalization, the only regulation that was occurring was throwing people in jail when they got caught with it.

      Now there’s all kinds of permits and taxes and quotas and limits, it’s a bureaucrat’s wet dream! Regardless of all of that, this situation is still preferable to throwing people in jail, so it is progress.

      I’ve seen you make this point in other threads, and it seems like you’re just harping on the definition of “legalization”. Is your opinion that any product that has any regulation tied to at all isn’t “legal”? Are cars legal? Alcohol? How about a radio?

    2. So, food isn’t truly legal then? There are all kinds of regulations surrounding its production, sale, distribution, taxation, etc.

      This is the same boring, pedantic, and irrelevant “point” you make in every thread about legalization. If weed becomes as legal as alcohol or tobacco like it has in some states already, it’s “legal” in the colloquial sense.

  5. Yes, Legalization can be thought of as dumb along with jailing people for possession, sales, etc. It’s called Decriminalization… better than legalization, because then you don’t have the State controlling it, taxing it, etc. and you’re still free to do what you want with it.

    1. Bloomberg might be walking back his comments on pot, but you better believe that he is prepared to come down like a ton of bricks on gun owners, anyone who vapes/smokes, and in general anyone who runs afoul of his dictat, which when he was mayor of NYC, was mostly brown people. Will be the same x50 if he is POTUS

    2. No, you’re not. After decriminalization it won’t be a crime, but it can still be illegal, a civil violation. Even complete depenalization can leave the law in a condition whereby they can still seize your goods.

      Meanwhile legalization doesn’t automatically entail any particular level of regulation.

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  9. Sanders = statist
    Bloomberg = statist

    Some choice.

  10. Interesting how he changed his mind, kind of. I don’t trust this guy any further than I could throw him. Anyone that continues to support prohibition is an imbecile, or simply ignorant of the damage it has done to millions while failing to reduce supply, demand, or consumption. I am fully capable of deciding what I should and should not consume; the World Wide Web allows me to research any substance known to man. It’s high time we quit with this nanny state so that people can live in peace. We can stop calling it the “war on drugs” because it’s actually a war on people that consume drugs. Which is quite odd considering that nearly everyone consumes one drug or another, and if you’re favorite drug is deemed illegal by some fat cats on Capitol Hill, you’re SOL, and you’re a second class citizen that should be in a cage. Never mind the fact that ALL of the illegal drugs are safer than alcohol… you need to go to jail, because drugs will ruin your life, and they need to “protect” you from them.

    1. You are completely wrong about illegal drugs being safer than alcohol.
      While marijuana is innocuous, meth will completely ruin your life in a very short time.
      Alcohol can be an addictive killer, yet literally hundreds of millions of people use it and suffer no serious effects at all.
      I am not aware of anyone who uses meth one or two days a week for years like many people drink wine.

  11. … your favorite drug… I guess I can’t edit anything.

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    I am Elena gillbert.Michael Bloomberg, who as mayor of New York City presided over a dramatic surge in pot possession busts and last year called legalizing cannabis “perhaps the stupidest thing we’ve ever done,” now says “putting people in jail for marijuana” is “really dumb.” You might suspect that Bloomberg’s…
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