You may have missed Bernie Sanders' town hall at Virginia's George Mason University on Wednesday as the GOP presidential contenders duked it out in Boulder, Colorado. But he made some news. Sanders called for the full decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level, a move that would allow states to regulate the drug the same way they handle alcohol or tobacco. "Right now marijuana is listed by the federal government as a schedule-one drug, meaning that it is considered to be as dangerous as heroin," Sanders said. "That is absurd."
Sanders, while touting the possible civic benefits of decriminalization (such as providing a funding stream, through taxation, for treatment of more dangerous substances such as opioids) took pains to frame legalization as a matter of racial justice:
Let us be clear, as is the case in many other areas, that there is a racial component to this situation. Although about the same proportion of blacks and whites use marijuana, a black person is almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records because of marijuana use. That is wrong. That has got to change…A criminal record could include not only time in jail, but a criminal record makes it harder for a person to get a job, harder for a person to get public benefits, harder for a person to even get housing. A criminal record stays with a person for his or her entire life.
The legalization he proposed would also eliminate one of the roadblocks to decriminalization in places such as Washington state or Colorado, by allowing marijuana distributors to use the banking system like any other business.
Republicans overwhelmingly elected Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as the 54th speaker of the House on Thursday morning. After a tumultuous month that began with the aborted candidacy of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Ryan, the House GOP's budget guru and 2012 vice presidential nominee, received 236 votes from his caucus. Just nine Republicans voted for his challenger, Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida.
Things got testy at Wednesday's GOP presidential debate when CNBC's Becky Quick asked Donald Trump about his criticism of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (who supports expanding the number of visas offered to highly skilled workers). The GOP front-runner, running on a staunchly anti-immigration platform, didn't just play dumb—he went on the attack. Trump alleged that the Zuckerberg story had been fabricated by the media. When Quick followed up with the actual quote from Trump, he again denied having ever said it.
It didn't take long for Wednesday's Republican presidential debate to devolve into an angry back-and-forth between rival candidates. And for once, it was actually kind of substantive.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich spent his first moments on camera attacking what he considered to be his party's drift toward the fringe. Although he didn't mention candidates by name, he hammered Donald Trump's proposal for mass deportation of undocumented residents; Ben Carson's decision to base his tax rate on biblical tithing; and many of the other candidates' support for throwing millions of people off the insurance rolls.
Trump didn't take that sitting down. He sniped back, noting that Kasich worked at the investment banking firm Lehmann Brothers prior to the company's collapse in the 2008 financial crisis. Then they fought over what, exactly, Kasich's role at the company was. (He was a managing director of the investment banking division.)
Editor's note: MotherJones reporter Tim Murphy recently acquired a time machine. But he didn't go back into the past and kill baby Hitler. Instead, he traveled forward in time to Boulder, Colorado, to watch Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate. Here's his report.
No one ever accused Donald Trump of bringing a knife to a gun fight. Wednesday’s showdown in Boulder was the first debate in which billionaire real-estate mogul Trump was not the Republican front-runner. Though he still holds double-digit leads in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Trump recently dropped into second place in Iowa, and on Tuesday, after leading the GOP pack for 100 days, he trailed Ben Carson in a national poll.
But if Trump had an intention of moderating his style, it didn't show. He stayed on the offensive throughout the night. When CNBC moderator John Harwood asked Trump if he believed Congress should raise the debt ceiling, he pivoted to attack Carson for his Seventh-day Adventist beliefs ("China has eight days"). And he raised a childhood incident in which the former pediatric neurosurgeon tried to stab a friend with a knife. Carson's blade became caught in his friend's belt buckle—no harm was done—and Carson has long credited the lucky break with turning his life around.
"When I stab someone, I stab them in the belly, where the flesh is softest," Trump said. "That is how you do it. That way you can get right to their organs, and do a really tremendous amount of damage, very serious bleeding. This guy was a surgeon?"