Hey Bernie, I like you. Why the heck aren't you taking as strong a position on cannabis prohibition as you do on everything else?

The message of taking the country back from Wall Street: Spot on. That's why I camped out on concrete in front of Philadelphia's City Hall for two cold months in 2011 with the Occupy movement.

The no-nonsense points about healthcare and the hyper-inflated costs of pharmaceuticals soundly rings my bell.

So when you were tossed a total softball about marijuana policy during the debate this week why did you bunt instead of slugging for a triple?

OK, you didn't totally dodge the pot pitch like Hillary. (By the way Mrs. Clinton has been on Willie Nelson's bus a few times. Having been there myself on occasion it would be hard for her not to be around salad bowls full of fragrant buds...just saying.)

Look Bernie, I'm glad you would vote to legalize cannabis in Nevada. Cool.

The Silver State, along with California, Massachusetts and perhaps Michigan, will likely vote to end marijuana prohibition in the 2016 election. Ohio is set to vote on this issue in a few weeks.

Heck, most of the GOP candidates are OK with states making the move. An exception: Gov. Christie. He's going to send the National Guard into Colorado for Operation Bong Smash if he gets into the Oval Office. Then again, judging by Christie's recent approval ratings in New Jersey, he isn't likely to be elected even as the dogcatcher in Hoboken anytime soon.

Bernie, that debate question was a chance to set yourself truly apart. Sure, my fellow marijuana activists are already fawning over you. But that was also the chance to show what the presidency really means: the ability to affect national change.

Supporting states' rights about marijuana isn't enough. That is what the Obama administration has done already with weed. More or less.

Sure there have been some DEA and federal raids of medical marijuana facilities and even some patients have been caught growing. Roland and Michelle Gregg along with Roland's mother Rhonda Firestack-Harvey were sentenced to up to 33 months in federal prison earlier this month for growing 75 marijuana plants in Washington State. They always claimed it was for medical use. True, they weren't following the letter of local laws, where medical cultivation was legal. So federal authorities quickly swooped in to save Washingtonians from the threat of a small cannabis garden.

Did I mention I'm on federal probation? Yeah, it's for 0.4 grams of pot. That's about half of a joint. I smoked the other half in civil disobedience on federal land. Specifically, Independence Hall National Historic Park, next to an outdoor monument to the First Amendment.

President Obama and his Department of Justice have said that federal agencies have "bigger fish to fry" than policing and prosecuting simple marijuana possession. They made an exception for little old me. It was probably the bullhorn.

The U.S. attorney took the time to take me through a trial. I was sentenced to two years of probation and a $3,000 fine. I was also threatened with a 30-day stay in the Federal Detention Center. Every month an officer of the court visits me at home to watch me pee into a cup. Federal supervision costs about $280 per month. So far, taxpayers have spent $5,320 to keep me away from the Devil's Lettuce.

I know it's a drop in the bucket for the overall federal budget. But it goes to show the harsh federal law is on the books for having a little bit of a non-toxic dried flower.

During the debate this week, Sen. Sanders, you said a lot of people are going to prison for marijuana. Some of those pesky fact-checking blogs cried foul. It's true that the super majority of state and federal offenders are not incarcerated for small amounts of marijuana. But that doesn't tell the whole story, either.

Many Americans are sent into county jails or federal prisons for violating their terms of probation or parole. The most common reason is failing a drug test. And the most common illicit substance in the country is marijuana. Of course everyone in prison for testing positive for THC wouldn't show up in the data sets as being there for weed.

Bernie, during the pot question, you also turned your answer towards the overall, failed policy known as the War on Drugs. The notion is that the War is the bigger issue. Totally valid. But let's be clear, about 700,000 of us are arrested for marijuana every single year. That's more than for all the other drugs combined. So an end to national marijuana prohibition would stop, literally, half of the War on Drugs.

There's also a deeper issue. Until federal law changes, states don't really have the full rights to regulate in this regard. Annoyingly, every time we try to pass a medical-marijuana law, like right now in Pennsylvania, the opposition is constantly pointing at federal policy and generally jumping up and down.

Keeping cannabis in the Controlled Substances Act significantly thwarts state-level reform. That may be why no state legislature has yet to legalize marijuana. So far it has always been done directly by voters. Only 28 states have that option; the rest of us are out of luck.

Moreover, even after a state has made the cannabis shift, working folks can end up like the Greggs in Washington or me in Philadelphia: falling afoul of federal agencies.

Indeed, as more states end criminal penalties and reap the prodigious tax rewards of regulating cannabis, it creates an even greater imbalance to freedom. This is a profound issue of civil rights and social justice. Americans can be locked up and face the full weight of the law simply for standing in the wrong spot in a state or city.

Sen. Sanders, you are a smart and seasoned politician as are many of your competitors for president. You all know that modern marijuana prohibition started at the White House with President Nixon. It will have to end there, too.

Until we have a chief executive willing to tackle the real issue, federal laws, this country will only be increasing injustice with a confusing and growing patchwork of pot policies.

Mary Jane is likely to come up again, Bernie. If you are sincere, take a harder swing at the pitch. Lend some of your fiery oratory to the core of the issue. You gave some smoke, but give them the real Bern. Dealing with cannabis prohibition is something a president could truly, tangibly, accomplish.

Thanks for hearing me out.



Chris Goldstein is associate editor of Freedom Leaf magazine and co-chair of PhillyNorml. Contact him at chris@freedomisgreen.com.