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Bernie Sanders announces support for reforms allowing states to legalize marijuana

Sanders doesn't favor nationwide legalization, and was "not here advocating that states do it"

Fairfax, Virginia CNN  — 

Bernie Sanders, one might say, is feeling the burn.

The Vermont senator on Wednesday announced his support for reforms that would allow states to legalize marijuana.

He stopped short of calling for nationwide legalization, instead saying the federal government should remove the marijuana from its list of dangerous drugs. Marijuana is classified along with heroin and ecstasy as substances with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

“In the year 2015, it is time for the federal government to allow states to go forward as they best choose,” Sanders said at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, adding that the U.S. should “remove the federal prohibition on marijuana.”

He was quick to note, however, that he was “not here advocating that states do it.”

Sanders’ proposal would not only legitimize use in the states that have legalized marijuana but would also solve a major dilemma for owners of marijuana businesses. Those companies, from retailers to growers, largely operate entirely using cash, unable to accept credit cards, deposit their proceeds in banks and issue paychecks because under federal law their business is illegal.

“That means that recognized businesses in states that legalized marijuana should be fully able to use the banking system without fear of federal retribution,” he said.

His remarks were greeted with cheers and applause. His campaign said the town hall-style meeting was also streamed to college campuses around the country.

Sanders has previously voiced support for decriminalizing marijuana, or removing the stiff penalties that come with possessing a small amount of the drug.

A key reason, as he explained Wednesday, is “there is a racial component” to enforcement of marijuana laws, with far more black people than white people arrested for marijuana possession.

At the CNN presidential debate in Las Vegas earlier this month Sanders said it is time to “think through this war on drugs” and hinted he was open to states taking the next step, legalization.

Asked how he would vote on a Nevada ballot question that would legalize recreational use, Sanders said, “I would vote yes because I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for non-violent offenses.”

Hillary Clinton said at the debate she was not ready to answer the same question, and wants to study the handful of states, like Colorado, that have already enacted legalization.