Marijuana is now a mainstream political issue, and all of the candidates in the 2016 presidential race have discussed it at length.
Here’s a roundup of what the contenders have said about cannabis policy, as well as what they’ve admitted about their own marijuana consumption.
This post will be updated as candidates continue to address the issue. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order.
Last updated on August 1, 2016.
Hillary Clinton – Democrat
The former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady has said marijuana has medical value and that she wants to see states move forward with their own laws. She has also called for marijuana to be rescheduled under federal law.
“I think we need to be very clear about the benefits of marijuana use for medicinal purposes,” she told CNN. “I don’t think we’ve done enough research yet, although I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions and who have anecdotal evidence that it works, there should be availability under appropriate circumstances.”
On the broader issue she added, “On recreational, you know, states are the laboratories of democracy. We have at least two states that are experimenting with that right now. I want to wait and see what the evidence is.”
During an appearance at Luther College in Iowa, Clinton was asked about the issue by a student and responded, “I would support states and localities that are experimenting with this.”
Similarly, in an interview with KUSA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Denver, she said “I really believe it’s important that states like Colorado lead the way, so that we can learn what works and what doesn’t work. And I would certainly not want the federal government to interfere with the legal decision made by the people of Colorado, and enforced by your elected officials, as to how you should be conducting this business that you have approved. So, no, I want to give you the space and I want other states to learn from you, what works and what doesn’t work.”
In response to a change.org question, Clinton said, “These statewide experiments can help us point the way to national policy, so I’ll continue the Obama Administration’s enforcement guidelines that allow states to experiment.”
Along the same lines, during an interview with WBZ radio in Boston, Clinton called it “appropriate” for states to move ahead with legalization, adding, “I think the federal government has to move to make this more available for research that we can then distribute to interested people across our country.”
She told ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel that, “I think what the states are doing right now needs to be supported, and I absolutely support all the states that are moving toward medical marijuana, moving toward — absolutely — legalizing it for recreational use. But I want to see what the states learn from that experience because there are still a lot of questions that we have to answer at the federal level.”
Calling for a reclassification of cannabis under federal law, she added, “What I’ve said is let’s take it off the what’s called Schedule I and put it on a lower schedule so that we can actually do research about it. There’s some great evidence about what marijuana can do for people who are in cancer treatment, who have other kind of chronic diseases, who are suffering from intense pain. There’s great, great anecdotal evidence but I want us to start doing the research because Jimmy. Suppose you’re taking two of three prescription drugs and you don’t know what dosage you should be mixing with everything. So let’s find out and let’s make that available and let’s do more and support it.”
On KNPR radio, she said, “I support states making this decision so that we can have some good on- the-ground experience as to what works and frankly, what doesn’t work… We call the states the laboratories of democracy. And I think on this issue it’s a very important role for the states to play. I know there is a ballot initiative here in Nevada and I will watch that very closely. And as president, I will try to make sure that we learn the lessons we do everything that we can to follow up on what the states have learned.”
On the other hand, Clinton told KPCC radio that, “I think the feds should be attuned to the way marijuana is still used as a gateway drug and how the drug cartels from Latin America use marijuana to get footholds in states, so there can’t be a total absence of law enforcement, but what I want to see, and I think we should be much more focused on this, is really doing good research so we know what it is we’re approving.”
She has also been reluctant to answer questions about whether she would personally vote to support legalization it it were on the ballot in the state where she voted. “I think I would have to study that more to see how it was phrased because it’s been phrased differently in different states,” she said in an appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America. “I want to wait and see what we learn from what’s happening in Colorado and other the states that have gone the whole route toward absolute legalization.” Clinton added that she is “100 percent in favor of medical uses for marijuana.”
Clinton was similarly circumspect when asked by San Francisco’s CBS affiliate whether she would support a proposed marijuana legalization ballot measure in California. “Well, clearly this is going to be decided by the people of California. I’m interested in following and evaluating what states are doing,” she said. “I’d have to study what it said and how it would actually be implemented… I have questions about it… I’m gonna wait and draw my own conclusions about recreational when I hear about how it’s worked in various states.”
In her 1996 book, “It Takes A Village,” Clinton seemed to give credence to the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug. “Some factors that increase the risk of substance abuse in those years deserve emphasis,” she wrote. “Casual attitudes toward marijuana and minors’ access to cigarettes raise the likelihood that teenagers will make a sad progression from cigarettes to marijuana to more serious drug use and earlier sexual activity.”
Clinton has criticized federal barriers to research on the drug. There is “a lot of anecdotal evidence” that marijuana has medical benefits, she said, “but we have no [scientific]evidence because researchers can’t experiment with marijuana because it’s a controlled substance. We have people trying to help kids with cancer, we have people who deserve to have [access to medical cannabis]but we don’t know what interaction with other drugs, what right dosage are because can’t conduct research. If we’re going to pass medical marijuana, we have to allow research and try to get real science.”
She has also called for marijuana to be rescheduled under federal law, which would better facilitate such studies. “I would like to move it from what is called Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 so that researchers at universities, national institutes of health can start researching what is the best way to use it, how much of a dose does somebody need, how does it interact with other medications,” Clinton said at an appearance in South Carolina.
Her campaign has lists her marijuana reform positions as one of “112 reasons (and counting!)” Clinton should be the next president. “She believes we should use alternatives to incarceration for low-level, nonviolent marijuana users, and she will reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance,” the campaign website says.
Clinton’s campaign website also says she will “end the era of mass incarceration by…focusing federal enforcement resources on violent crime, not simple marijuana possession.” Criticizing the racial disparity in prohibition enforcement, the site points out that “black men are significantly more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts, despite the fact that their usage rates are similar.”
During her last presidential campaign, in 2007, she said, “I don’t think we should decriminalize it.”
But in the first Democratic presidential debate of this cycle, she said, “I agree completely with the idea that we have got to stop imprisoning people who use marijuana,” adding that, “I do support the use of medical marijuana.”
At a Democratic town hall in New Hampshire, Clinton told a medical marijuana patient that she will “do a lot” to ensure legal access. “I want to move it from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II so that we can begin to do more research. The NIH and a lot of universities can begin to try to find out. Because I want you to know what we know from science. But I also want you to be able to use it while we’re doing the research. And so many states, as you know, have moved to provide legal protection for the use of medical marijuana. I support that.”
She added that ongoing research will provide more answers. “I also want you to know what dosage is right, what interacts with the other medication you’re taking. I want to accelerate this because I have no doubt that there are very real benefits for people. We know in chemotherapy, we know from other conditions in using the right amount of the right kind of marijuana. I just want to make sure it’s the right amount and the right kind. That’s why I want to get that research up and going as quickly as possible…You deserve answers about marijuana.”
In 2011, as secretary of state, Clinton responded to a question about whether legalization would reduce drug cartel violence by saying, “It is not likely to work. There is just too much money in it, and I don’t think that you can legalize small amounts for possession, but those who are making so much money selling, they have to be stopped. They can’t be given an even easier road to take, because they will then find it in their interest to addict even more young people. Mexico didn’t have much of a drug problem before the last 10 years, and you want to keep it that way. So you don’t want to give any excuse to the drug traffickers to be able legally to addict young people.”
On the broader drug war, Clinton boasted at a New Hampshire event about a drug interdiction program her husband’s administration launched, the centerpiece of which was spraying herbicides on coca crops in Colombia. “When my husband was president, as you remember, there was a war going on in Colombia by drug traffickers and insurgent rebels,” she said. “It was such a violent war that elected officials, business leaders, academics were being kidnapped, many of them murdered, others held for ransom. And we did something called Plan Colombia. Where we helped the government figure out how to secure their country from drug traffickers and rebels.”
But Clinton has also said that drug addiction is a health issue that shouldn’t be criminalized. “We have to move away from treating the use of drugs as a crime and instead, move it to where it belongs, as a health issue,” she said at a Democratic debate in South Carolina. “And we need to divert more people from the criminal justice system into drug courts, into treatment, and recovery.”
On a personal level, Clinton told CNN she’s “absolutely not” tried marijuana. “I didn’t do it when I was young. I’m not going to start now.” Similarly, in an interview with KNPR radio, she said, “No I haven’t [ever smoked marijuana]. I think that you know it’s a very personal decision and that’s why we need the states to make the move to try to get us more real-world information and experience so we know exactly how to move forward here.”
Donald Trump – Republican
The businessman and former reality television host supports medical marijuana but has taken conflicting positions on full legalization over the years. He supports the right of states to enact their own marijuana laws without federal interference.
In 1990, Trump called for legalizing all drugs. “We’re losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war,” he said. “You have to take the profit away from these drug czars… What I’d like to do maybe by bringing it up is cause enough controversy that you get into a dialogue on the issue of drugs so people will start to realize that this is the only answer; there is no other answer.”
But at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump stated that he’s against the legalization of marijuana. “I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about that,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems.” However, when asked about the states’ rights aspect to marijuana laws, Trump said, “If they vote for it, they vote for it.
Similarly, at a rally in Reno, Trump said, “I think medical should happen, right? Don’t we agree? I mean I think so… I know people that are very, very sick and for whatever reason, the marijuana really helps them.”
On full legalization, he added, “And then I really believe you should leave it up to the states. It should be a state situation… In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state by state.”
In an interview with WWJ Newsradio in Detroit, Trump said legalization has “got to be a state decision. Colorado did it as you know and I guess it’s very mixed right now, they haven’t really made a final determination. There seems to be certain health problems with it and that would be certainly bothersome.” But he reiterated support for medical cannabis. “I do like it, you know, from a medical standpoint. Because people are saying from a medical standpoint it does do pretty good things. But from the other standpoint, I think that should be up to the states… Certainly, from a medical standpoint, a lot of people are liking it.”
On ABC’s This Week, Trump said legalization “should continue to be studied. But it’s not something I’d be willing to do right now.” He hinted that in the absence of robust policing or border control, legalization may be an option. “Maybe it has to be looked at because we do such a poor job of policing. We don’t want to build walls. We don’t want to do anything. And if you’re not going to want to do the policing, you’re going to have to start thinking about other alternatives. But it’s not something that I would want to do. But it’s something that certainly has been looked at and I looked at it. If we police properly, we shouldn’t do that.”
Some advocates have worried that if Trump names New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as attorney general, as has been widely speculated, he could change his mind on respecting state marijuana laws. But in an interview with KUSA-TV in Denver, Trump was specifically asked about Christie’s pledge to enforce cannabis prohibition even in states with legalization. “I wouldn’t do that, no,” Trump said. “I think it’s up to the states. I’m a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.”
On other occasions, he has seemed less certain about what the federal response to state legalization should be. For example, on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, Trump said he was watching Colorado’s experience with legalization and didn’t like what he saw. “Well, there are a lot of bad things happening in Colorado with people’s health. And if you look at the results, you know, they’re getting some pretty bad results. Plus, it’s being taken all over the place. I mean, I would have to look at it very seriously,” he said. “Now I think if you talk about medical, you’re talking about a different ball of wax. But there are a lot of bad results happening in Colorado, and people are talking about it. I’m reading about it. So I would be looking at a couple of different things, but I really would want to study it further, because they’re doing a lot of studies. But you know, some bad medical reports and some bad, bad things are happening with what’s going on in Colorado.”
Trump seemed similarly undecided in an interview on Fox News’s O’Reilly Factor. “In Colorado, the book isn’t written on it yet, but there’s a lot of difficulty in terms of illness and what’s going on with the brain and the mind and what it’s doing,” he said. “In some ways I think it’s good and in other ways it’s bad.” But he reiterated that he supports medical marijuana. “I know people that have serious problems and they did that and it really does help them.”
And during a town hall in Wisconsin, Trump said he was hearing mixed things about legalization in Colorado. “I’m watching Colorado very carefully, see what’s happening out there. I’m getting some very negative reports, I’m getting some OK reports, but I’m getting some very negative reports coming out of Colorado as to what’s happening, so we’ll see what happens.” Of marijuana use, he said, “There’s a lasting negative impact. You do too much of it… There’s a loss of something, so that book has not been written yet but it’s gonna be written pretty soon and I’m not hearing very positive things.” Trump did reiterate his support for medical cannabis, saying, “In terms of medical, I think I am basically for that. I’ve heard some wonderful things in terms of medical.” On broader criminal justices issues, he added, “With prisons I do think we can do a lot of privatizations and private prisons. It seems to work a lot better.”
When asked by MSNBC’s Joe Scarbourough whether people should be sent to jail for marijuana, Trump responded, “I don’t really think so,” but “I think that maybe the dealers have to be looked at very strongly.”
Addressing state marijuana laws, Trump predicted that momentum will continue to be on the side those who favor reform. “You have states all of a sudden legalizing it. So it’s sort of hard to say that you’re in one side of the border and you go to jail and you’re on the other side and can you go into a store and buy it. So there is going to be changes made there, Joe, and there has to be… That is a very tough subject nowadays, especially since it’s been legalized and will continue to be legalized.”
In an interview on Fox News, Trump called marijuana “a big problem,” saying the drug has “tremendously damaging effects to the mind, to the brain, to everything.” But he reiterated that he’s “all for medical marijuana and its help.”
In his book, “The America We Deserve,” Trump claims that he’s never tried marijuana. “I’ve never taken drugs of any kind, never had a glass of alcohol. Never had a cigarette, never had a cup of coffee,” he wrote. Similarly, in an interview with Fox News’s Jesse Watters, Trump said, “No I have not [smoked marijuana.] I would tell you 100% because everyone else seems to admit it nowadays… I’ve never smoked a cigarette either.” In an interview with People magazine, Trump indicated his aversion to drug use was shaped by his brother’s death from alcoholism. “He had a profound impact on my life, because you never know where you’re going to end up,” he said.
Candidates Who Dropped Out of the Race
Jeb Bush – Republican
Jeb Bush dropped out of the race on February 20, 2016.
The former Florida governor does not favor legalization, or even medical cannabis, but he does favor decriminalizing marijuana possession and supports letting states set their own marijuana laws without much federal interference.
Speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Bush said legalizing marijuana is “a bad idea but states ought to have that right to do it.”
Previously, he told the Miami Herald that, “I think that states ought to have a right to decide these things. I think the federal government’s role in our lives is way too-overreaching. But having said that, if you’re in Colorado and you can purchase marijuana openly, should people in Wyoming not be concerned about that? And I think there, maybe, the federal law needs to be looked at — interstate commerce.”
At a debate hosted by CNN, he said, “What goes on in Colorado, as far as I’m concerned, that should be a state decision.”
In response to a change.org question, Bush said, “While I believe states should decide their own policies, I believe legalizing marijuana will lead us down an incredibly slippery slope. Specifically, I am worried about the subsequent public health costs associated with legalizing marijuana. Along with temporarily clouding one’s judgment, the use of marijuana has been shown to have long-term negative impacts on cognitive development and cognitive ability. The fact that marijuana use can permanently hinder adolescent brain development is particularly troubling and is one of many worthy reasons to restrict the availability of marijuana.”
Bush spoke out against a medical marijuana amendment that was on his state’s ballot. “Florida leaders and citizens have worked for years to make the Sunshine State a world-class location to start or run a business, a family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire,” he said. “Allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts. I believe it is the right of states to decide this issue, and I strongly urge Floridians to vote against Amendment 2 this November.”
But when questioned by a father of an epileptic child in Iowa, Bush said he would consider rescheduling cannabis if elected.
As governor, Bush opposed a proposed ballot initiative that would have given first- and second-time drug offenders access to treatment instead of incarceration, even as his daughter Noelle underwent highly-publicized legal consequences stemming from a series of drug possession arrests. Calling the measure “misleading,” he said it would “destroy” Florida’s drug court program. “To suggest there should be no penalties for continued drug use is to stick our heads in the sand,” he said.
“The neurological damage done by this high potent marijuana today is at best untested. At worst, will create huge disruptions in communities,” Bush said at a campaign stop in Iowa, adding that he thought legalization in Colorado has led to “increases in crime and lower productivity.”
Similarly, during a Republican town hall in South Carolina, Bush said marijuana “has major impacts – neurological impacts.” Citing his wife’s work for anti-drug organizations, he said he’s seen “devastating impacts that it has on productivity, the impacts it has on brain damage.” But he reiterated his support for letting states implement their own approaches. “My first impulse on all of these issues is a bottom-up approach, rather than a top-down approach, where Washington should be the partner to help solve these problems,” he said.
During an appearance on WBZ NewsRadio in Boston, Bush said, “Marijuana is a gateway drug just as opiates are a gateway drug. Of course it is, every study shows that… The new heroin and the new marijuana are highly, highly toxic.”
But during the same interview he voiced support for removing criminal penalties for possession of marijuana. “It’s one thing to say we should have decriminalization of marijuana. I support that.”
On his campaign website, Bush touts his record of cracking down on drugs as governor, including how he pushed for higher penalties and “brought together the state’s drug warriors” to better coordinate enforcement efforts.
But Bush has also increasingly discussed –in personal terms — the broad issue of drug addiction as requiring health solutions, not just criminal justice ones. “As a father, I have felt the heartbreak of drug abuse,” he wrote in a piece on Medium. “Some label the drug abuse epidemic just a criminal justice issue, and some try to make it just a health care issue. Both approaches oversimplify this complex and heartbreaking challenge. It is imperative to reduce both the demand and supply if treatment and recovery programs are going to work.” He also highlighted his daughter’s struggles in a campaign ad.
Bush himself has admitted to frequent marijuana use during his younger days, and is reported to even have sold hash on occasion. “I drank alcohol and I smoked marijuana” in high school, he said. “It was pretty common.” At the CNN debate, he said, “So, 40 years ago, I smoked marijuana, and I admit it. I’m sure that other people might have done it and may not want to say it in front of 25 million people. My mom’s not happy that I just did.”
Ben Carson – Republican
Ben Carson dropped out of the race on March 4, 2016.
The retired neurosurgeon, who has never held elected office, says that marijuana has some medical value but opposes full legalization and would continue to enforce federal law even in states that have ended prohibition.
Carson told ABC News that legalization “should be completely off the table.” However, he added, “I have no problem with medical marijuana usage, and there are ways that it can be done that are very appropriate.”
Similarly, he told Fox News that, “I think medical use of marijuana in compassionate cases certainly has been proven to be useful.” But he went on to say that “marijuana is what’s known as a gateway drug. It tends to be a starter drug for people who move onto heavier duty drugs -– sometimes legal, sometimes illegal –- and I don’t think this is something that we really want for our society. You know, we’re gradually just removing all the barriers to hedonistic activity.”
Carson has suggested that as a doctor, he would consider advising patients to try medical cannabis. “Would I recommend medical marijuana? Absolutely,” he said at a campaign rally in Ohio. “I have no problem with medical marijuana. But that is very different from legalizing it for recreational use. I would not do that under any circumstances.”
At an event in Florida, Carson said, “Medical marijuana, when it’s done in the proper way and the proper form, can be very beneficial, particularly with patients with seizure disorders.”
Carson has called for the federal government to reclassify cannabis from its current Schedule I status. “Medical marijuana has proven its benefit and it should be rescheduled, there’s no question about that,” he said at an event in Iowa.
But Carson has also argued that marijuana use has long-term negative consequences. “We have known for a long time that people who engage in such activities can have flashbacks months and years after usage, that a lot of their abilities can be impaired at the time of use,” he told NewsMax TV. “So why would we throw into the mix something else that can impair people? We have enough impaired people already.”
On his campaign website, Carson claims marijuana is a gateway drug. “Growing up in poverty, I have seen the crippling effects drug addiction can have,” he said. “Gateway drugs, such as a marijuana, lead many down a road to harder illegal drugs, like heroin, that devastate the individual and the family. We must prioritize stopping the flow of illegal drugs into our neighborhoods and inner-city communities.”
When asked about the growing public support for legalization, Carson said it indicates that Americans are “much more interested in pleasure than we are in taking care of the severe business that faces us, and let’s look for ways to escape those things rather than actually face them… We’ve reached a point where, if it feels good, do it.”
Carson doesn’t think the federal government should let states implement legalization without interference. “Regular exposure to marijuana in the developing brain has been demonstrated definitively to result in decreased IQ. And the last thing we need is a bunch of people running around with decreased IQ,” he said at a press conference in Denver. “There are ways that you can create pills and ointments and things like that that are used for medicinal purposes while still enforcing federal law… [Yes I would enforce the federal drug laws in states such as Colorado] providing the use, the appropriate use of medical marijuana.”
Similarly, at a rally in Iowa City, Caron said, “Exposure to cannabis in a developing brain can cause significant damage, including drops in IQ. Now, we already have enough people with low IQs. So we don’t need to be cultivating that in our society right now. That’s craziness.”
In an interview with Glenn Beck, Carson also pledged to “intensify” the broader war on drugs.
On a personal note, Carson wrote in his book that, “Because of my love of God and my religious upbringing, I didn’t become involved in sex or drugs.”
Lincoln Chafee – Democrat
Lincoln Chafee dropped out of the race on October 23, 2015.
The former governor of Rhode Island, U.S. senator and mayor and city councilor of Warwick has signed marijuana reforms into law and pushed for changes to federal policy. Previously a Republican and then an independent, he’s now running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
As governor, he signed legislation decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.
He also joined with then-Washington Governor Christine Gregoire to petition the federal government to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II. “Americans’ attitudes toward medically prescribed marijuana are changing, and medical organizations throughout the country — including the Rhode Island Medical Society and the American Medical Association — have come to recognize the potential benefits of marijuana for medical use,” he said in a press release. “Patients across Rhode Island and across the United States, many of whom are in tremendous pain, stand to experience some relief. Governor Gregoire and I are taking this step to urge the Federal Government to consider allowing the safe, reliable, regulated use of marijuana for patients who are suffering.”
In the face of threats from a federal prosecutor, he initially put Rhode Island’s medical marijuana dispensary licensing program on hold, but then allowed it to go forward after the General Assembly passed legislation further regulating the providers.
On the question of full legalization of marijuana, Chafee is keeping an open mind. Colorado’s ending prohibition “opened a lot of eyes,” he told Bloomberg.
Chafee called state legalization laws “interesting, positive experiments” at a forum in Iowa.
“Let’s take it step by step,” he said on HuffPost Live. “We want to see how it’s working in Colorado. Certainly, the revenue is enticing for all governors. Somebody was saying to me with the bad weather we’ve had back home and all the potholes, we should have the revenue go to infrastructure — pot for potholes. Fix up our roads and bridges and fill our potholes, it’s a bad winter up there back home.
“The ability to tax and to put that revenue to beneficial means, whatever it might be — infrastructure, education — is tempting for governors,” he said.
Chafee’s position on marijuana “will evolve during the [presidential]campaign,” he told U.S. News & World Report.
He has also raised concerns about the broader war on drugs. “I think we should be having an international discussion over our drug policy, whether it’s winning or losing the war on drugs, and the destabilizing effect that the illicit drug trade has…across the Western Hemisphere, and in Asia, and in Afghanistan,” Chafee told an activist with Students for Sensible Drug Policy. “The courts, the banking system, everything just gets corrupt as a result. And we’ve been on this for too long: Interdiction, intervention, substitution. We’ve been doing it and doing it and doing it. It just doesn’t seem to work.”
In his book “Against the Tide,” Chafee recounts meeting with the then-president of Uruguay, who said the U.S. should legalize drugs. “We will probably have this debate in the US, but not because Latin America is having it,” Chafee wrote. “The debate will come when we can no longer avoid confronting the destabilizing heroin trade in Afghanistan.”
On a personal level, Chafee admitted to using marijuana and cocaine while attending Brown University in the 1970s. “I had three choices: Lie, which was not an option, or evade it and receive the consequences of that, or be honest. And I chose to be honest,” he said.
Chris Christie – Republican
Chris Christie dropped out of the race on February 10, 2016.
While the New Jersey governor and former U.S. attorney did allow his state’s medical marijuana program to move forward in the face of federal threats, he has been widely criticized for slow-walking its implementation. And though Christie often calls the war on drugs a failure, he staunchly opposes legalization and says he would enforce federal laws in states that have ended prohibition.
He even went so far as to specifically criticize voters in Colorado — a key presidential swing state — for opting to enact legalization. “For the people who are enamored with the idea of the income, the tax revenue from this, go to Colorado and see if you want to live there,” he said on New Jersey 101.5’s “Ask the Governor” program. “See if you want to live in a major city in Colorado where there’s head shops popping up on every corner and people flying into your airport just to come and get high. To me, it’s just not the quality of life we want to have here in the state of New Jersey and there’s no tax revenue that’s worth that.”
When asked how he would treat states that legalize marijuana if elected president, he responded, “Probably not well.”
Christie said he will “crack down and not permit” state legalization in an appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “Marijuana is a gateway drug. We have an enormous addiction problem in this country. And we need to send very clear leadership from the White House on down through the federal law enforcement. Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law. And the states should not be permitted to sell it and profit from it.”
Similarly, in response to a change.org question, Christie said, “As president I would enforce the federal drug laws in states that currently allow people to sell marijuana legally. I will crack down and not permit it. I have been clear that I do not support the legalization of marijuana and consider it a gateway drug.”
During a town hall in New Hampshire, he said, “If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it until January 2017 because I will enforce the federal laws against marijuana as president of the United States.”
Christie has criticized President Obama’s policy of generally not interfering with state marijuana laws, alleging that he likely feels “guilt” over his own youthful use of the drug. At a New Hampshire forum on drug policy, Christie said that if Obama wants to end federal prohibition he should “go to Congress, stand in the well of the House in your State of the Union Address and say ‘I believe it’s time to legalize marijuana.’ This child of the ’60s who is in the White House is unable to absent himself from his own past use, and is unable to say no.”
At a debate sponsored by CNN, Christie said using marijuana isn’t a victimless crime. “Look at the decrease in productivity, look at the way people get used and move on to other drugs when they use marijuana as a gateway drug, it is not them that are the only victims. Their families are the victims too, their children are the victims too, and their employers are the victims also,” he said. “That’s why I’ll enforce the federal law, while you can still put an emphasis on rehabilitation, which we’ve done in New Jersey.”
At an appearance in Ottumwa, Iowa, Christie said letting states legalize marijuana “sends an awful message to our children, and an awful message of a lack of productivity in our economy when people can go to work in Colorado high.” Citing edibles and marijuana gummy bears, he added, “Kids are getting high in the Colorado schools as we speak… When I was in school, math and physics was hard enough when I was straight. If I was high there’d be no chance I’d be able to do it.”
But Christie signed into law a bill allowing New Jersey students to use medical cannabis at school.
Christie is not impressed by the tax revenues that legalization can generate. “To me, that’s blood money,” he said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a drug treatment center. “I’m not going to put the lives of children and citizens at risk to put a little more money into the state coffers, at least not on my watch.”
He also isn’t moved by the fact that marijuana reform is politically popular. “I don’t care quite frankly that people think it’s inevitable,” Christie said on the “Ask the Governor” program. “It’s not inevitable here. I’m not going to permit it. Never, as long as I’m governor. You want to elect somebody else who’s willing to legalize marijuana and expose our children to that gateway drug and the effects it has on their brain? You’ll have to live with yourself if you do that. But it’s not going to be this governor who does it.”
In another appearance on “Ask the Governor,” Christie claimed there is very little real demand for medical marijuana and that New Jersey’s program, which was signed into law by the previous governor, is “a front for legalization.”
At an appearance in Bow, New Hampshire, Christie offered no apologies to a New Jersey family that moved to Colorado because they found the Garden State’s medical marijuana too restrictive. “Vivian Wilson’s family chose themselves to leave the state of New Jersey. The fact is we signed into law the ability for children to get medical marijuana under very strict guidelines,” he said. “This is a medical program, not a recreational program… I am an anti-marijuana guy.”
But he has acknowledged that marijuana does have medical uses for some people, and has indicated he doesn’t think the federal government should interfere with state medical cannabis laws. “This is a decision on medical marijuana that I think needs to be made state-by-state,” Christie said during an appearance in Iowa. “I don’t want it used recreationally, but for medical purposes, it’s helpful for certain adult illness and certain pediatric illness. So where it’s helpful and when a doctor prescribes it, I have no problem with it.”
But in an exchange with a nurse in Iowa, Christie said he wouldn’t act to reschedule marijuana under federal law. “I cannot administratively fix that and I will not administratively fix it,” he said, even though the Controlled Substances Act does give the executive branch the power to reclassify marijuana without further Congressional action.”I am for limited medical use, not mandated by the federal government, but permissive by the federal government,” he added. And each state has a different point of view because each state is permitted to have a different point of view on this issue.”
Even though Christie isn’t a fan of broad marijuana reform, he has criticized the failure of the overall drug war on a number of occasions. “We will end the failed war on drugs that believes that incarceration is the cure of every ill caused by drug abuse,” he said during his second inaugural address as governor. “We will make drug treatment available to as many of our non-violent offenders as we can and we will partner with our citizens to create a society that understands that every life has value and no life is disposable.” During his 2016 State of the State address, he said, “Instead of prosecuting a failed war on drugs – a war on our own citizens – we’ve classified drug addiction as the illness it truly is, and worked to treat and rehabilitate some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
When asked if he’s ever tried marijuana himself, he tweeted, “The answer is no.”
Ted Cruz – Republican
Ted Cruz dropped out of the race on May 3, 2016.
The U.S. senator and former solicitor general of Texas isn’t a fan of legalization but supports the right of states to end prohibition without federal interference
“I actually think this is great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the laboratories of democracy,’” he said in a Q&A with Fox News host Sean Hannity at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference. “If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”
In another interview with Hannity, on Fox News Channel, Cruz said legalization is “a question that’s being debated in a lot of different states. Now my personal views, I’m not a supporter of legalization. If Texas were voting on it, I’d vote against it because I’m concerned about the abuse of drugs among kids, but I’m a Constitutionalist. I think that is a decision for the states to make and so if some states choose to do that, they have the authority to do that. We should respect it.”
When asked by the Denver Post whether he would enforce federal marijuana laws in states with legalization, Cruz said, “No. I think on the question of marijuana legalization, I think we should leave it to the states. If it were me personally, if we were voting on it in the state of Texas, I would vote against it. I don’t personally support legalization. But one of the great things about our Constitution, about the Bill of Rights and the 10th Amendment, is it allows federalism. It allows states to experiment.”
He continued, “The people of Colorado have made a different decision. I respect that decision. And it actually is an opportunity for the rest of the country to see what happens here in Colorado, see what happens in Washington State, let the states implement the policies, and if it works well, other states may choose to follow. If it doesn’t work well other states may choose not to follow.” Asked whether he thought legalization was working out well, he said, “I’m going to give that some time to let the facts and evidence play out and ultimately that will be a decision for the people of Colorado. I think Coloradans understand the problems here far better than anyone in Washington, [D.C.]”
Similarly, in an interview with Denver’s ABC affiliate, Cruz said, “I think it is the prerogative of the states to make that determination. I think the people of Colorado have the right to make the decision that they’ve made under the Constitution and, as president, I would respect that right that the people of Colorado have made a decision. Other states may make different decisions.”
When the topic came up in another interview with Fox’s Hannity he said, “The Constitution answers a lot of questions.”
Along the same lines, after a rally in Des Moines, Cruz told a voter that his view “on the question of medical marijuana has always been that it’s a question for the states. That if an individual state decides that they want to allow it, that’s a permissible decision and if a they decide they don’t want to allow it that’s a permissible decision. My view, as I said, is we should respect the rights of the states.”
Similarly, in an appearance on Sirius XM’s Wilkow Majority, he said, “If you asked me personally, do I support legalization, the answer is no. If we were voting on it in the state of Texas I would not vote to legalize because I don’t want to see young people and teenagers going down the road of drug addiction. But that being said, under the Constitution, under the Tenth Amendment, I believe the states have the authority to make that determination… I think they have the Constitutional right to do that… We ought to be willing to let the people decide, and that makes everyone happier when the people have the authority to decide.”
However, on some occasions Cruz has also slammed President Obama for allowing states to pursue legalization with little federal interference. “The Obama administration’s approach to drug policy is to simply announce that across the country, it is gonna stop enforcing certain drug laws,” Cruz told Reason. “I think most disturbingly, watching President Obama’s approach to drug laws is that he hasn’t tried to start a discussion, a dialogue about changing the laws. He simply decreed he’s not gonna enforce laws he doesn’t agree with.”
Cruz pressed attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch with no fewer than 17 written questions about marijuana policy, including, “What steps will you take to require these states to cease and desist their support of the cultivation, distribution, and sale of marijuana, or to otherwise bring these states into compliance with existing federal controlled substance law?”
At times, Cruz’s position seems to be that states should be allowed to legalize marijuana but, given current federal law, the presidential administration should continue to stand in the way of states that move forward. However, he hasn’t yet introduced or co-sponsored any legislation to bring federal law into line with his apparent view that the national ban on marijuana possession, cultivation and sales should be removed so states can set their own policies without interference. He hasn’t even co-sponsored a bipartisan bill that former fellow presidential contender Rand Paul and others introduced to stop federal raids on state-legal medical marijuana patients and providers.
But he continues to say that states should be able to legalize marijuana without federal interference when asked about the issue on the campaign trail. Cruz doesn’t appear to have thought much about some of the federal roadblocks that stand in the way of state-legal marijuana businesses. When asked about their access to banking services, he said,”That’s a question I’ll confess I haven’t studied.”
As for Cruz’s own relationship with the drug, a spokesman said, “When he was a teenager, he foolishly experimented with marijuana. It was a mistake, and he’s never tried it since.” Cruz has also talked about his family’s struggles with substance abuse as a motivator for his position on drug policy issues. “My older sister, Myriam, who was my half- sister, struggled her whole life with drug and alcohol addiction,” he said at a Republican debate in New Hampshire. “My father and her mom divorced when she was a little girl and she was angry her whole life, and she ended up marrying a man who had been in and out of jail. She then became a single mom and she herself went to jail several times and she ended up spending some time in a crack house.” She later died of a drug overdose.
Carly Fiorina – Republican
Carly Fiorina dropped out of the race on February 10, 2016.
The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, who has never held elected office, personally opposes ending prohibition but supports the right of states to legalize marijuana without federal interference. She has also made comments indicating she supports decriminalizing possession of all drugs.
“I respect Colorado’s right to do what they did. They are within their rights to legalize marijuana and they are conducting an experiment that I hope the rest of the nation is looking closely at,” she told the Des Moines Register. “I believe in states’ rights. I would not, as president of the United States, enforce federal law in Colorado where Colorado voters have said they want to legalize marijuana.”
Similarly, in response to a change.org question, Fiorina said, “I believe in states’ rights, so I think the voters have the right to vote on whether to legalize marijuana in their states. Personally, however, I think it is a very bad idea to legalize marijuana.”
Even though Fiorina opposes legalization, she admits that it would generate billions of dollars in new taxes. But for her, marijuana’s revenue generating potential is actually a reason to continue prohibition. “Sending billions of dollars in new tax revenues to Sacramento is exactly the problem,” she said in response to a question about Proposition 19, the California legalization initiative that narrowly failed in 2010. “We’ve seen over and over again that Sacramento as well as Washington, D.C. have a spending problem.”
Along the same lines, she said on KFAB-AM’s Chris Baker Show that, “We now have industries growing up, and I think actually the whole push to legalize…recreational marijuana is a push to increase tax revenue, and the one thing that government does not need is more revenue. What the federal government in particular needs is less revenue and we need to actually be able to cut money and move money… So I am against anything honestly that gives the federal government more money, or government in general more money.”
Fiorina seems to believe that using marijuana is more harmful than drinking alcohol. “While I generally support states’ rights I think we’re lying to kids when we tell them having a joint is like drinking a beer. It’s not,” she told Baker. “And the costs to our society are going to be large. Medicinal marijuana, I can support, as long as it’s regulated like a medicine.”
She told Yahoo News’s Katie Couric that she’s comfortable with the idea of marijuana having medicinal benefits but that it’s not “properly regulated” right now. “If we want to treat marijuana as a medicine, fine. Then regulate it as a medicine,” she said. “All you have to do is walk down Venice Beach. Anybody can get medicinal marijuana. It’s not a medicine. It’s a recreational drug right now.”
She has indicated that she does support decriminalization, though, and not just for marijuana. Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Fiorina included “decriminalizing drug addiction and drug use” in a list of reforms at the state level she supports. “We need to treat it appropriately, and when you look at the stats, it’s clear that a lot of what goes on in an inner city like Baltimore is sort of like an industry: you have a lot of young people who are getting access to drugs and then they’re getting arrested frequently,” she said. “It’s just a bad, bad cycle.”
Similarly, in an op-ed for TIME, she wrote, “We shouldn’t be criminalizing addiction. If you’re criminalizing drug abuse, you’re not treating it.”
At a personal level, Fiorina refused to even consider using medical cannabis when she was diagnosed with cancer. “I remember when I had cancer and my doctor said, ‘Do you have any interest in medicinal marijuana?'” she recalled. “I did not.”
Jim Gilmore – Republican
Jim Gilmore dropped out of the race on February 12, 2016.
The former governor of Virginia, state attorney general and chairman of the Republican National Committee opposes legalization but has expressed openness to letting states legalize medical marijuana without federal raids.
“I’m not a legalization guy. I think that it’s not a substance, it’s a lifestyle, and a quality of life and approach that I’m afraid I can’t adhere to,” he told WMUR-TV. “I understand that some people are able to use marijuana in a recreational way and it probably doesn’t hurt society. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe we ought to be legalizing and putting the legitimacy of the state on to substance abuse. I just don’t believe in it.”
As governor, Gilmore pushed to increase drug arrests and seizures, saying in his 2001 State of the Commonwealth address that “illegal drugs are not an acceptable part of our society.”
In 2000, he endorsed a National Governors Association policy stating that, “The nation’s Governors believe illicit drug legalization is not a viable alternative, either as a philosophy or as a practical reality.”
Despite personally opposing legalization, Gilmore has hinted he opposes federal interference with state marijuana laws, at least when it comes to medical cannabis. During his brief campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, he said, “I think that that kind of approach has to be done under the law of the various states,” according to the Marijuana Policy Project. “If you have states that permit it, I would not expect to see a raid by anybody, but I don’t support it or approve of it.”
It is unclear whether Gilmore has ever used marijuana himself.
Lindsey Graham – Republican
Lindsey Graham dropped out of the race on December 21, 2015.
The U.S. senator from South Carolina, who formerly served in the U.S. House and as a state legislator, opposes legalizing marijuana, but is sympathetic to medical cannabis. He has said mixed things when it comes to whether the federal government should respect state marijuana laws.
“In general I do not support decriminalizing illegal drugs. I support enforcing our current laws relating to the purchase, distribution and consumption of illegal substances,” Graham wrote in a letter to a constituent. “Marijuana is a dangerous substance that can have a detrimental effect on the health of anyone who uses it.”
At a CNN Politics on Tap event, he said, “Personally I don’t like the idea. I’m not a big fan of legalizing marijuana,” expressing concern that it is a gateway drug. “I think there’s enough problems with alcohol without adding to it.”
But “count me in for medical marijuana,” he added.
Graham’s support for medical cannabis is particularly strong when it comes to children suffering from severe seizure disorders, saying he’s “convinced” that it helps people with epilepsy.
“I’m putting myself in the shoes of a parent,” Graham told WBTV in Charlotte. “If this treatment helps their child with epileptic seizures, why stand in the way?”
But in May 2015 Graham voted against an Appropriations Committee amendment to allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans. While serving in the House, he voted for a 1998 resolution “expressing the sense of Congress that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug and should not be legalized for medicinal use.”
Graham’s position on whether the federal government should interfere with state marijuana laws is somewhat unclear.
“Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Justice Department will not prosecute purveyors of medical marijuana provided they are in compliance with state and local laws,” he wrote in the constituent letter mentioned above. “I do not support this policy, as I feel it is tantamount to federal legalization of medical marijuana and creates an inconsistent federal enforcement policy between states.”
But Graham expressed support for an amendment to prevent DEA interference in state medical cannabis laws. Although he missed a committee vote on the measure and the chairman entered a proxy no for him, Graham later made it clear he was in favor. “A no by proxy vote was cast in error,” he said. “While the language in this amendment needs to be clarified to ensure that states are limited to purely medicinal uses of marijuana, I do believe that medical marijuana holds promise and support this amendment.”
Earlier, when asked by the reform group Just Say Now whether he favors continuing federal prohibition or states’ rights, Graham said, “I don’t see a real need for me to change the law up here. Marijuana’s half as bad as alcohol. That’s probably enough reason to keep it more regulated.”
And when the Washington Post asked Graham if he would work to overturn the District of Columbia’s voter-approved marijuana legalization law, he said, “To be honest, that’s pretty far down my list of priorities.”
Similarly, when asked whether he would come after Colorado’s legalization program, he joked, “I’ll be honest with you, this is about 10th on my list of things to worry about. After I kill [ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-] Baghdadi, I’m gonna come after y’all.”
Graham told CNN that he hasn’t used marijuana. “Yeah, I’ve never smoked pot. I don’t know what that makes me.”
Mike Huckabee – Republican
Mike Huckabee dropped out of the race on February 1, 2016.
The former Arkansas governor and Baptist pastor opposes legalization but would respect the right of states to enact marijuana reforms without federal interference.
“The best way to determine whether this is good public policy is to do what the founders envisioned, and that’s let states become laboratories of democracy,” Huckabee said in an interview with KCCI-TV in Des Moines. “I’m willing to let states operate under the 10th Amendment and I’m willing for the states, if they think that marijuana and the legalization of it is a great thing, I’m willing for them to experiment and find out.”
He added that he personally opposes legalization as a policy, however. “I think we need to recognize, marijuana has never made anybody a better citizen,” Huckabee said “Do we really think that marijuana is something we want to encourage people to have greater access to? Does it make you a better worker? Does it make you a better mom or dad?”
On medical marijuana, he’s more open minded. “If your doctor prescribes certain uses of it, then I’m open to that,” he said. “That’s not the use of marijuana just so a person can get stoned. That’s so that a doctor, believing that that particular prescription would help a patient, whether it’s with chronic pain or a particular disease… I’m open to that.”
Huckabee’s support for medical cannabis and states’ rights to legalize is a reversal of his position during a failed run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, in which he wouldn’t even pledge to stop the DEA from raiding and arresting patients and providers in states where medical marijuana is legal.
“I’m going to leave it up to the DEA whether they feel like there is a person who is being arrested because they are suffering from AIDS or because they really are doing something to significantly violate drug laws,” he said at the time, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. “I think there are better ways to treat medical illnesses than the use of a drug that has really caused so many more people to have their lives injured than it has to necessarily have their lives helped.”
When confronted by a New Hampshire medical marijuana patient during that earlier campaign, Huckabee said, “I’m not going to put you in jail, Linda. That’s not the point we would do. But I think the question is would I favor the legalization at a federal level, and until there is some stronger scientific evidence, I am reluctant to do that.”
More recently, Huckabee pointed to the tax revenue Colorado has generated with legal marijuana sales and asked “at what cost” the funds come. “The money is earmarked for youth prevention services, substance abuse treatment and public health,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “But what is a young person supposed to think when the state says, ‘Don’t do drugs…even though everyone around you is…and the same authority figures who tell you it’s bad not only condone it, but are also making a big profit off it’?”
In a Republican debate in Las Vegas, Huckabee made a dismissive remark about medical marijuana in criticizing what he sees as young people’s lack of desire to work for the country. “All over America I hear young people say, ‘Would you tell me what you’re gonna do? Will you give me free college? Will you make sure that I can have medical marijuana?’ You know what I think we ought to tell young people? We aren’t gonna give you anything. We’re gonna give you the opportunity to get off your butt and go serve your country and secure your freedom. Because if you don’t, nobody else is.”
Huckabee says he’s never used marijuana. “While other candidates are being outed for their teenage drug use, their teenage alcohol use, their teenage partying hard, doing all sorts of destructive things like painting graffiti on bridges, the scandal with me is that I wrote a column at age 17 telling Christian young people to live a godly life,” he said on Washington Watch with Tony Perkins.
Bobby Jindal – Republican
Bobby Jindal dropped out of the race on November 17, 2015.
The governor of Louisiana and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives opposes legalization and favors enforcing federal laws even in states that have ended prohibition, but signed into law a limited medical marijuana bill that his own state legislature passed.
“I’m not for legalization of marijuana. I think that would be a mistake,” Jindal said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show.
“I’m certainly not for the president of the United States being able to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow. And I think this is a very dangerous precedent this president has started,” he continued, referring to the Obama administration’s mostly hand-off approach to state marijuana laws. “I don’t think you can ignore federal law. Federal law is still the law of the land. It still needs to be enforced… I don’t think the president gets to pick and choose. And if people don’t like the law, they should try to change the law. They shouldn’t just say we’re going to stop, start ignoring these laws.”
While serving in Congress, Jindal voted against amendments to prevent the Justice Department from interfering with state medical marijuana laws in 2005, 2006 and 2007, though he has left the door open to reexamining federal laws. “If it makes sense, if there are federal laws that need to be re-examined, I’d be willing to look at those,” he told the Des Moines Register.
The governor has given his support to a restrictive medical marijuana program passed by Louisiana state lawmakers. “Our view on medical marijuana was, it had to be supervised and had to be a legitimate medical purpose and his bill meets that criteria,” Jindal said during a press conference.” He also discussed his views on medical marijuana during a visit to Iowa. “As long as it’s tightly controlled and truly genuine medical purposes, not just simply an excuse for legalizing marijuana… If it truly is tightly controlled, supervised by physicians, I’m OK with that,” he said.
Jindal also signed a separate bill to lower Louisiana’s marijuana penalties, although, even under the reforms, the state’s laws would still remain among the toughest in the nation. “We are fine with the idea of providing rehabilitation and treatment for non-violent drug offenders, and I think this bill does that,” he said. “I think that’s good for those offenders and it’s good for taxpayers.”
He criticized America’s overincarceration problem during an interview on CNN’s State of the Union. “We lock up too many people for casual drug use,” he said. “What I mean by that is that, certainly, non-violent, non-repeat offenders, those that aren’t committing other crimes, we should look at treatment and rehabilitation.”
In his book “Leadership and Crisis,” Jindal wrote that he never tried drugs as a young man. “I generally avoided trouble as a kid… I never got arrested, never experimented with drugs, and generally lived a life that was like Leave It to Beaver with a Louisiana twist.”
John Kasich – Republican
Josh Kasich dropped out of the race on May 4, 2016.
The governor of Ohio and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Fox News Channel host opposes legalization, but has expressed openness to letting states set their own marijuana laws without federal interference.
“I’m totally opposed to [legalization], because it is a scourge in this country,” Kasich said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “In my state and across this country, if I happened to be president, I would lead a significant campaign down at the grassroots level to stomp these drugs out of our country. We’re doing it in Ohio in a variety of ways through education, prosecution, and it’s an unbelievably serious problem.”
In an appearance on WHIO-TV, Kasich said that Ohio would not legalize marijuana if it were up to him. “We’re not gonna do that if I have any say about it,” he said.
“You don’t want to legalize marijuana, because you don’t want to send a mixed message: ‘Don’t do drugs but, by the way, this drug’s OK,'” Kasich said at a New Hampshire event with teen substance abuse prevention advocates. “One of the perverse ideas about this is, ‘Well we can make money and have more money for budgets if we legalize it.’ That’s nuts to me, OK?”
At a debate hosted by CNBC, he said, “Sending mixed signals to kids about drugs is a disaster. Drugs is one of the greatest scourges in this country. I’ve spent five years of my administration working with my team to do a whole sort of things to try to rein in the problem of overdoses.”
Kasich appeared reluctant to even discuss the issue in an interview with attn:. “We don’t want to have a big debate about marijuana this or that because we have a giant problem in this country with drug addiction, and I don’t want to send a confusing message, particularly to people like my young daughters about, ‘some of this is right and some of this is wrong.’ I think it’s all wrong… That’s all I’ve got to say.”
But even while opposing legalization, Kasich is opposed to an incarceration-based approach to the drug. “I don’t think we should put people in jail for smoking marijuana,” he said at an event in Michigan, adding, “I don’t want to ruin somebody’s life because they’re smoking marijuana.”
While serving in the House, Kasich voted for a 1998 resolution “expressing the sense of Congress that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug and should not be legalized for medicinal use.”
When asked by the Ohio Capital Blog whether he could imagine a scenario where he would support medical marijuana, Kasich said, “No… I’m not for it… There’s better ways to help people who are in pain.”
But at the New Hampshire event with teen substance abuse prevention advocates Kasich seemed to leave room for some form of legal medical cannabis use. “Medical marijuana is a different issue,” he said. “Now, what I’ve told people in the state is we can’t use it as a back door. But if doctors were to come to me and say there is an element of that that can be used to deal with the problem of seizures, because some young people can have like 30 seizures a day, it’s something to think about. But it should be tightly controlled.”
On other occasions, however, Kasich appeared reluctant to support laws aimed at providing CBD-rich cannabis preparations to children suffering from severe seizure disorders. “I’d do anything for kids,” he told the Cincinnati Enquirer editorial board. “But we’ve got to do what’s medically recommended by people who have gone to medical school and have a license.”
Despite his personal opposition to marijuana reform, Kasich does seem open to letting states legalize without federal harassment. “I mean, the state has voted for it, you know what I mean? On what grounds would you shut them down?” he said on Hugh Hewitt’s show. “First of all, you have a states’ rights issue. The people in those states have voted that way… I probably would not [enforce federal law in stated that have legalized marijuana]from the standpoint that the states have gone forward to prove that.”
And even though he called legalization a “terrible idea” that he “would try to discourage the states from doing,” Kasich told MLive.com he’d be inclined to respect states that go ahead anyway. “If states want to do it … I haven’t made a final decision, but I would be tempted to say I don’t think we can go and start disrupting what they’ve decided.”
During an appearance in Oregon, Kasich said, “I’m not sending the federal forces in to decide what you do in your state.”
In response to a change.org question, Kasich said, “I oppose the legalization of drugs that are currently illegal. You have to consider the drug crisis New Hampshire and the rest of the country are currently facing.”
On the campaign trail, Kasich has often made a point of bringing young people up on stage and encouraging them to pledge never to do drugs.
Although his 1998 book, “Courage is Contagious,” contains a chapter titled, “You Don’t Know How Much I Hate Drugs,” Kasich admitted in an interview on CBS’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert that he has used marijuana. At a campaign appearance in Vermont he said, “I smoked marijuana when I was a kid, I’m not proud of that but I did…. It’s a different drug than it was 30 years ago, they tell me.” In an interview with WWJ Newsradio in Detroit, Kasich seemed annoyed to be asked about his past marijuana use. “Because I’m running for president I should have to answer a question like that? I mean, I did, but let me ask you this, what is the relevance of what I might have done 30 years ago? I mean, this is not what matters when we pick a president,” he said. “You know, I did smoke marijuana when I was younger. But there’s gonna be a limit to the kind of ‘gotcha’ questions I’m gonna answer as we go forward in this campaign.”
Martin O’Malley – Democrat
Martin O’Malley dropped out of the race on February 1, 2016.
The former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor and city councilor signed laws decriminalizing marijuana possession and legalizing medical cannabis into law, but not before he spent years vocally opposing such reforms.
“As a young prosecutor, I once thought that decriminalizing the possession of marijuana might undermine the Public Will necessary to combat drug violence and improve public safety,” O’Malley said in a statement announcing the he would sign the bill. “I now think that decriminalizing possession of marijuana is an acknowledgement of the low priority that our courts, our prosecutors, our police, and the vast majority of citizens already attach to this transgression of public order and public health. Such an acknowledgment in law might even lead to a greater focus on far more serious threats to public safety and the lives of our citizens.”
O’Malley also shifted his position on medical cannabis. In 2012, he threatened to veto a medical marijuana proposal that the Maryland state legislature was considering. The following year, his administration endorsed a scaled-back proposal to distribute marijuana through academic hospitals. His backing gave the bill a boost, and the legislature passed it. When that law, upon further scrutiny by policymakers, appeared that it wouldn’t actually help very many patients, the legislature moved ahead with enacting a more comprehensive medical cannabis program. O’Malley remained largely silent as the legislature considered and passed the bill, and then surprised many advocates by signing it and the decriminalization bill into law on the same day.
On the presidential campaign trail, O’Malley has often mentioned his gubernatorial actions on cannabis when speaking about broader criminal justice issues. “We decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana,” he said during a debate with other Democratic candidates. “I repealed the death penalty, and we also put in place a civilian review board.” At another debate he said, “I repealed the possession of marijuana as a crime in our state.” At a town hall forum he said, “I repealed as a crime and decriminalized the possession of marijuana.”
His campaign also released a proposal pledging that, if elected, he will “direct the Attorney General to move to reclassify marijuana, while supporting bipartisan congressional efforts to legislatively reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug.”
Despite coming around on those reforms, O’Malley hasn’t endorsed full legalization. “I’m not much in favor of it,” he said on Marc Steiner’s radio show. “I’ve seen what drug addiction has done to the people of our state, the people of our city. And I also know that this drug and its use and its abuse can be a gateway to even more harmful behavior.”
On CNN, he said, “In our state, a lot of the new opportunities that are opening up for our kids in security and cyber security and other things, they require a background check and they require that kids have clean records.” When host Candy Crowley pointed out that legalization would result in fewer people getting criminal records, he said, “Yes, but we can’t do that as a state. That would be something only the nation could do.” Crowley then reminded him that some states are already legalizing marijuana. “And for Colorado perhaps that’s a good choice and perhaps there’s things we can learn from their experiment as a laboratory in democracy,” O’Malley said.
Similarly, in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, he said, “I believe it’s best for Maryland to learn from experiments underway in Colorado and Washington and to be guided according to whether more good than harm is done.”
O’Malley has hinted he may end up coming around to support legalization. “I’m not there yet. I could get there,” he told the Des Moines Register editorial board. “I don’t think we’ve had enough time with Colorado and Washington State.”
At a “Marijuana Legalization Listening Session” O’Malley held in September with industry and movement insiders in Denver, he said it would take “two to three years” to gather “solid factual evidence” before he would ultimately decide whether legalization is a good idea. He also suggested that some tax revenues from legal marijuana sales could be used to help address the “heroin epidemic.” And he acknowledged that prohibition’s days are likely numbered. “If you talk to young Americans under 30 there is a growing consensus that marijuana should be treated more akin to alcohol than to other substances,” he said. “There’s definitely a difference between marijuana and many other controlled substances.”
George Pataki – Republican
George Pataki dropped out of the race on December 29, 2015.
The former New York governor, state legislator and mayor of Peekskill opposes legalization but is a supporter of states’ rights to enact their own marijuana laws. However, he believes that federal law needs to be changed first.
“I’m a great believer in the 10th Amendment,” Pataki told Hugh Hewitt. “So I would be very strongly inclined to change the federal law to give states, when they’ve had a referenda, the opportunity with respect to marijuana to decriminalize it,” but with a few caveats.
“I would not be adverse to changing the law if we could guarantee…no spillover to adjacent states, protection for minorities that are ironclad, and the third is there’s no increase in dependency as a result of that,” he said. “You know, if all of a sudden we see states like whatever the state that legalizes it is resulting in much higher dependency costs that the federal government has to pay for, then I think the federal government has the right to say you can’t do that.”
As governor, Pataki opposed efforts to legalize medical cannabis in New York, saying his medical advisers urged against it. “They have concluded that it is not justified at this time, that there are alternatives, and I support that conclusion,” he said, according to the New York Times.
More recently, when asked by Bloomberg News about the limited medical marijuana bill signed into law by current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Pataki said, “I don’t think it’s a step in the right direction. I am not in favor of legalized marijuana.”
Pataki has admitted using marijuana while a law student at Columbia University, and in a fairly unorthodox way: He put it into baked beans. “I didn’t think it would work in soup, so we tried baked beans,” he said on Howard Stern’s radio show. But he said that method of ingestion “had zero impact, which is probably why it never caught on.”
He also tried consuming cannabis by the more traditional route of smoking. “And, yes, I did inhale,” Pataki wrote in his 1998 autobiography. But he found that it had “no real appeal,” because friends who used it “tended to go off in their own heads somewhere” and that it was “too anti-social for me.”
Rand Paul – Republican
Rand Paul dropped out of the race on February 3, 2016.
The U.S. senator from Kentucky is a strong supporter of letting states set their own marijuana laws without federal interference, and has actively worked to reform federal policies.
Paul is an original sponsor of a bill that would effectively end the war on medical cannabis. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act of 2015, which he introduced with a bipartisan coalition of other senators, would reschedule marijuana, allow banks to provide financial services to state-legal cannabis businesses, lift restrictions on marijuana research, allow for the interstate importation of CBD-rich strains and let V.A. doctors to recommend medical cannabis to military veterans, among other changes.
“My political director’s father-in-law has multiple sclerosis, doesn’t sleep well at night, and marijuana helps him to sleep,” Paul told a group of voters at a diner in Manchester, New Hampshire. “Who would deny him that? Here’s the weird thing: We have 17 legalized drugs from the poppy plant, opioids, oxycontin, all these things that are hard to get off of and yet we make it illegal for marijuana… It’s ridiculous that we still want to put people in jail for it.”
He has pledged to reschedule cannabis administratively if elected president.
Paul is also working on other legislation to roll back various aspects of the war on drugs, including proposals to restore voting rights to convicted felons, reform mandatory minimum sentencing and scale back civil asset forfeiture. He is a co-sponsor of a bill to give marijuana businesses access to the banking system.
In a Reddit Ask Me Anything session, Paul said that the federal government shouldn’t prevent states from implementing their own marijuana laws. “I would remove prohibition of cannabis from federal law and give authority back to the states to decide,” he said.
Similarly, he told college students in Denver that, “if I’m president I’m going to leave Colorado the hell alone.”
When asked about Congressional efforts to block Washington, D.C. from implementing its voter-approved marijuana legalization measure, Paul said, “I’m against the federal government telling them they can’t.”
But Paul hasn’t championed the cause of full legalization of marijuana as a policy he personally supports. “I’m not really promoting legalization, but I am promoting making the penalties much less severe and not putting people in jail for 10, 20, 30 years,” he told Fox News’s Sean Hannity. When Hannity followed up with, “You’re saying you’re not promoting marijuana legalization. Do you support marijuana legalization?” Paul responded by saying, “I would let states choose. And I don’t know what’ll happen, whether it’s going to end up being good or bad. But I would let the states choose because I believe in federalism and states’ rights.”
He has also made it clear that while he supports reforming marijuana laws, he doesn’t think using the drug is a good idea. “Even though it may not kill you I don’t think it’s good for you,” he told WHAS-TV. “It’s not good for studies, it’s not good for showing up for work.” He told the Hoover Institution he thinks “people who use marijuana all the time lose IQ points.”
At a CNN debate, Paul said using marijuana “is a crime for which the only victim is the individual, and I think that America has to take a different attitude.”
Paul has also tied his support for letting states implement reforms to the struggle for racial justice. “I think the federal government has gone too far, I think that the war on drugs has had a racial outcome, and really has been something that has really damaged our inner cities,” he said. “Not only do the drugs damage [people of color], we damage them again by incarcerating them and then preventing them from getting employment over time. So I don’t think that the federal government should override the states. I believe in the 10th Amendment and I really will say that the states are left to themselves.”
At a Republican debate in Des Moines, Paul said, “I also think the war on drugs has disproportionately affected our African-American community, and what we need to do is make sure that the war on drugs is equal protection under the law and that we don’t unfairly incarcerate another generation of young African-American males.”
At a rally in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Paul said,”We have a war on drugs that has disproportionately impacted African Americans. I’ll fix it.”
Similarly, he told a group of students in New Hampshire that “I’m not here to encourage [drug use]). I’m just here to tell you we shouldn’t put people in jail for hurting themselves. And understand that there is a racial disparity in how we are putting people in jail for doing drugs.”
Paul seems to understand that his positions on drug policy reform resonate with younger voters. “Justice begins when the war on drugs ends,” he tweeted as part of a small-contribution fundraising effort.
Without directly confirming reports that he used marijuana in his younger days, Paul hasn’t exactly denied it either. “Let’s just say I wasn’t a choir boy when I was in college,” Paul told WHAS-TV, “and that I can recognize that kids make mistakes, and I can say that I made mistakes when I was a kid.”
He has openly criticized other politicians who have admitted to using marijuana but oppose reforming marijuana laws. For example, speaking of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Paul said, “This is a guy who now admits he smoked marijuana but he wants to put people in jail who do.” He also said, “I think it is hypocritical for very wealthy white people who have all the resources to evade the drug laws” to oppose reform. “Particularly in Jeb Bush’s case, he’s against even allowing medical marijuana for people that are confined to wheelchairs from multiple sclerosis.”
Rick Perry – Republican
Rick Perry dropped out of the race on September 11, 2015.
The former Texas governor, lieutenant governor, commissioner of agriculture and state legislator personally opposes legalization but takes a strong stance in favor of states’ rights to enact their own marijuana policies without federal interference.
“I’m a big believer in the 10th Amendment,” he said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “I don’t agree with those decisions that were made by…the state of Colorado or Washington, but I will defend it to my death, if you will, to allow them to make those decisions… I think they will look back and they will find that it was a huge error that they made. But I’m going to stick with the founding fathers rather than picking and choosing which [state laws] I want to defend and which ones I don’t.”
He told the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart that, “[If] you want to go somewhere where you can smoke medicinal weed, then you ought to be able to do that.”
Perry has raised concerns about the failure of the overall war on drugs and suggested he supports alternatives to incarceration for drug offenders.
“The point is that after 40 years of the war on drugs, I can’t change what happened in the past. What I can do as the governor of the second largest state in the nation is to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization and keeps people from going to prison and destroying their lives, and that’s what we’ve done over the last decade,” he said at the World Economic Forum.
Perry says he’s never used marijuana. “No, thank God,” he told Jimmy Kimmel. “But does second-hand count? Because I think there’s still some left in there where Snoop [Dogg] was,” referring to Kimmel’s backstage area, where the rapper hung out on the previous day.
Marco Rubio – Republican
Marco Rubio dropped out of the race on March 15, 2016.
The U.S. senator and former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives opposes legalization and decriminalization, and thinks the U.S. government should enforce federal laws even in states that have voted to end prohibition.
“We live in a country that already has problems with substance abuse,” he told ABC and Yahoo News. “We already see the impact that alcoholism is having on families, on drunk driving, on all sorts of things. And now we’re gonna add one more substance that people can use?”
He added, “When something is legal, implicitly what you’re saying, ‘it can’t be all that bad. Cuz if it’s legal it can’t be bad for you.’ The bottom line is I believe that adding yet another mind-altering substance to something that’s legal is not good for the country.”
While Rubio opposed the specific medical marijuana initiative that appeared on Florida’s 2014 ballot, he has left the door open to supporting medical cannabis in the future. “You hear compelling stories of people who say the use of medicinal marijuana provides relief for the thing they are suffering,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “So I’d like to learn more about that aspect of it, the science of it.”
At a candidate forum in New Hampshire, Rubio indicated he would only consider supporting medical marijuana if it were approved by the Food and Drug Administration. “For medicinal purposes, if it underwent FDA process and it was truly designed to be used as medicine, not as a way to get high, that’s something I would be willing to explore.”
Rubio is one of the only a handful of candidates who has said he thinks the federal government should interfere with state marijuana laws. “Marijuana is illegal under federal law. That should be enforced,” he said. “I understand that states have decided to legalize possession under state law, and the trafficking, the sale of these products. I mean, that’s a federal crime.”
In an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Rubio said the U.S. already has enough problems with legal drugs. “Absolutely… I believe the federal government needs to enforce federal law. I think this country already is paying a terrible and high price for the impact that alcohol has had on families, on addiction, on the destruction of marriages, homes and businesses. And now we’re gonna legalize an additional intoxicant?” When host Chuck Todd if alcohol or marijuana was a bigger gateway drug, Rubio responded, “I don’t know, I’ve never done the research on that… Alcohol is legal. We’re not gonna be able to roll that back. It is what it is.”
Similarly, at a rally in South Carolina, Rubio said, “This country already pays a terrible price for the abuse of alcohol. We’re not going to outlaw alcohol. We’re not going to ban it. It’s part of our culture. It’s ingrained in our society — that’s not a realistic proposal. But no one can tell me that alcohol’s had a positive impact on society It destroys marriages and lives, it kills people…and now you want to add another intoxicant and make it legal?” Comparing marijuana to other illegal drugs, he said, “There is no responsible way to use cocaine. There is no responsible way to smoke marijuana repeatedly. There’s nothing good about it. [If] there’s a medicinal use, go through the FDA process.” He added, “It’s not good for you. It’s not, like, broccoli.”
In response to a change.org question, Rubio said, “Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and federal law should be enforced. I’m not in favor of the legalization of another intoxicant. When you legalize something, you send the message that it’s not that harmful. And drugs are harmful. Today, too many New Hampshirites are paying a terrible price for drug abuse. It’s taking its toll in health costs, broken families and, far too often, lost lives. However, as I’ve said before, I’m open to medicinal uses of marijuana assuming it goes through the appropriate FDA channels.”
Rubio has refused to answer questions about whether he has ever tried marijuana. “I’ll tell you why I never answer that question,” he said in an interview with Fusion. “If I tell you that I haven’t, you won’t believe me. And if I tell you that I did, then kids will look up to me and say, ‘Well, I can smoke marijuana, because look how he made it. He did all right, so I guess I can do it, too.'”
Bernie Sanders – Democrat/Independent
Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race on July 12, 2016.
The U.S. senator and former House member from Vermont, who also served as mayor of Burlington, is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats and is running for that party’s presidential nomination. Sanders is the first major presidential candidate to indicate he personally supports legalizing marijuana, and he has co-sponsored and voted in favor of marijuana reforms in Congress on a number of occasions.
Sanders has proposed removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. “Right now, marijuana is listed by the federal government as a Schedule I drug—meaning that it is considered to be as dangerous as heroin. That is absurd,” he said at a rally at George Mason University. “In my view, the time is long overdue for us to remove the federal prohibition on marijuana. In my view, states should have the right to regulate marijuana the same way that state and local laws now govern the sale of alcohol and tobacco. And among other things, that means that recognized businesses in states that have legalized marijuana should be fully able to use the banking system without fear of federal prosecution.”
At a rally with students at the University of Iowa Sanders argued that marijuana and other drugs should be treated differently, and indicated he would take executive action to reschedule cannabis if elected. Under current law, “marijuana is listed side-by-side with heroin,” he said. “I know that you are a intelligent group of people and, very seriously, I know and I hope very much that you all understand what a killer drug heroin is. There are two ways out when you do heroin: Number one, you’re gonna get arrested and go to jail. Number two, you’re gonna die. Stay away from heroin. But in terms of marijuana what we are seeing is a lot of lives have been really hurt, because if you get a criminal record for possession of marijuana it could impact your ability to get a job. And that is why I have introduced legislation and will move forward as president to take marijuana out of the Controlled Substances Act.”
In a speech on the Senate floor, Sanders said, “What I am saying is not that the federal government should legalize marijuana throughout the country. This is a decision for the states. I hope many of my colleagues, especially those who express support for states’ rights and our federalist system of government, those who often decry the power of the big bad federal government in undermining local initiatives, would support my very simple and straightforward legislation,” which he introduced soon after.
In response to a change.org question, Sanders said that if elected president he “would direct HHS and DOJ to immediately review if marijuana should be rescheduled or descheduled under the Controlled Substances Act, and I would instruct DOJ not to interfere with states who have legalized or decriminalized marijuana.”
“I suspect I would vote yes,” Sanders said when asked during this cycle’s first Democratic primary debate in Nevada about the marijuana legalization initiative that’s likely to appear on the state’s ballot in November. “I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for nonviolent offenses. We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away and yet we are imprisoning or giving jail sentences to young people who are smoking marijuana.”
He also implied in an interview with the Sacramento Bee that he would vote for legal marijuana in California. “I don’t want to tell people in California, but if the wording is reasonable – I should study this up and I will – but in general I believe that we have to end prohibition regarding marijuana,” he said. “Everything being equal, yes, I do favor a legalization of marijuana.”
Sanders has made a point to proactively raise marijuana at debates and town halls this cycle even when not asked about it by the moderators. “It means that we take marijuana out of the federal law as a crime and give states the freedom to go forward with legalizing marijuana,” he said during one debate during a segment on the relationship between police and communities of color. During a similar discussion at a separate debate, he said, “We have to rethink the so-called war on drugs which has destroyed the lives of millions of people, which is why I have taken marijuana out of the Controlled Substance Act so that it will not be a federal crime.” At another debate in South Carolina, Sanders said it was unacceptable that “millions of people have police records for possessing marijuana when CEOs of Wall Street companies who destroyed our economy have no police records.” At a New Hampshire debate, he again contrasted the widespread punishment of young people for marijuana with how executives in the financial industry are treated, and pointed out that the U.S. has “more people in jail than any other country, largely African American and Latino.” In his opening statement at a debate in Milwaukee, Sanders said the American people are disturbed when “they see kids getting arrested for marijuana, getting in prison, getting a criminal record, while they see executives on Wall Street who pay billions of dollars in settlements and get no prosecution at all. No criminal records for them.” At a town hall in Nevada, he said, “Too many lives have been destroyed. Too many young people have been — incurred police records for possession of marijuana.”
On another occasion, he tweeted, “It makes no sense that kids who get caught with marijuana get police records while Wall St. CEOs who helped destroy the economy get raises.” At a rally in Mason City, Iowa, he said, “If some kid in Iowa or Vermont today is picked up possessing marijuana, that kid will get a police record that will stay with him for the rest of his life. But the executives on Wall Street who drove this country into the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, whose greed and illegal behavior resulted in millions of Americans losing their jobs, their homes, their life savings, these executives who pay billions of dollars in settlement agreements with the government, not one of them has been prosecuted. Not one of them has a criminal record.” And in a speech before the National Urban League he said, “It is an obscenity that we stigmatize so many young Americans with a criminal record for smoking marijuana, but oddly enough not one major Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for causing the near collapse of our entire economy. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”
Prior to endorsing legalization during the Nevada debate, his positions seem to have varied over the years.
In a 1972 letter, Sanders appeared to endorse legalizing all drugs. He wrote that “there are entirely too many laws that regulate human behavior. Let us abolish all laws which attempt to impose a particular brand of morality or ‘right’ on people. Let’s abolish all laws dealing with…drugs…”
In 2014, Sanders told TIME, that marijuana legalization “is a trend, but I think it has a lot of political support from young people especially. It probably will continue to move forward.” He added, “I’m going to look at the issue. It’s not that I support it or don’t support it. To me it is not one of the major issues facing this country. I’ll look at it.”
He told ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel that he is “not unfavorably disposed to moving toward the legalization of marijuana.” In response to a question about letting the U.S. Postal Service deliver cannabis, he joked that it would “get rid of the federal deficit pretty quickly, won’t it?
Sanders supports his home state’s marijuana decriminalization law. “The state of Vermont voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and I support that. I have supported the use of medical marijuana,” he said during a Reddit Ask Me Anything session. “And when I was mayor of Burlington, in a city with a large population, I can tell you very few people were arrested for smoking marijuana. Our police had more important things to do.”
In an interview with Univision, Sanders criticized how overarching federal prohibitions prevent full and effective implementation of state marijuana laws. “There are impediments to what Colorado has done because they can’t use the money they get, put it in the banking system and so forth and so on,” he said.
“I think there are things that the federal government can do that would make it easier for states that want to go in that direction to be able to do so,” he said in an interview with PATV in Iowa City. “What the federal government can do is say to the state of Colorado that if you choose to vote to legalize marijuana, we will allow you to do that without restrictions.”
At a Democratic candidate forum hosted by Fusion in Iowa, Sanders said, “I do not want to see a continuation of millions of people over the decades getting police records because they were caught possessing marijuana… My own view is, from a federal perspective, decriminalize marijuana.”
As a House member, Sanders repeatedly voted in favor of amendments to prevent the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, and he co-sponsored the States’ Rights to Medical Marijuana Act, a bill to reschedule cannabis and provide greater protections for medical patients. He also voted against a 1998 resolution “expressing the sense of Congress that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug and should not be legalized for medicinal use.”
In the Senate, Sanders has co-sponsored legislation to legalize industrial hemp and allow state-legal marijuana businesses to have access to banks. Sanders holds an annual essay contest for high school students from Vermont, and in 2016 picked several finalists who wrote about the need to end marijuana prohibition, entering their pieces into the Congressional Record.
Sanders has also raised concern about the broader drug war. “We have been engaged in [the war on drugs]for decades now with a huge cost and the destruction of a whole lot of lives of people who were never involved in any violent activities,” he said in an interview with TIME. Similarly, he tweeted, “For decades, we have been engaged in a failed ‘War on Drugs’ with racially-biased mandatory minimums that punish people of color unfairly.”
At a Democratic town hall in New Hampshire, he said, “For a start, we understand that substance abuse and addiction is a health issue, not a criminal issue. And when I talk about moving toward universal health care, what I understand that to be, and it is absolutely imperative that it be, is understanding that mental health and addiction is part of health care. And what that means is that when people need treatment they shouldn’t have to wait three months. When they need it, they should be able to get it. So that means we need a revolution in this country in mental health care to address the causes of addiction and provide treatment.”
And at a Democratic town hall in Ohio, he said, “What we have got to do is fundamentally rethink the so-called War on Drugs which has been a failure. We have got to look at substance abuse and addiction as a health issue, not a criminal issue. Locking up addicts is not going to solve the problem.”
In a YouTube interview with rapper Killer Mike, Sanders pointed out how people of color are arrested for marijuana at much higher rates even though they use the drug at virtually the same rate whites do. “It’s crazy, everybody knows that it’s crazy,” he said “It becomes a racial issue.”
Similarly, at a debate in Wisconsin, Sanders said, “What we have to do is end over-policing in African- American neighborhoods. The reality is that both the African-American community and the white community do marijuana at about equal rates. The reality is four times as many blacks get arrested for marijuana.”
Sanders’s campaign website includes calls to reform marijuana laws as part of its racial justice issues section. “We need to take marijuana off the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs,” the site reads.
In the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders has been critical of rival Hillary Clinton for, in his view, not going far enough in her proposals for reform. In response to Clinton’s call to move marijuana to Schedule II, Sanders said in a press release, “I am glad to see Secretary Clinton is beginning to address an issue that my legislation addressed, but her approach ignored the major issue. Secretary Clinton would classify marijuana in the same category as cocaine and continue to make marijuana a federally regulated substance.” In a separate release, he said, “We must recognize that blacks are four times more likely than whites to get arrested for marijuana possession, even though the same proportion of blacks and whites use marijuana. Any serious criminal justice reform must include removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.”
Sanders has also spoken about the need for broader criminal justice reform, for example during a speech following the Iowa Caucuses.“We will end the disgrace of having more people in jail than any other country,” he said, pledging to “provide jobs and education for our kids, not more jails and incarceration.”
Similarly, in his victory speech after the New Hampshire primary, Sanders said, “When we talk about transforming America it means ending the disgrace of this country having more people in jail than any other country in the world, disproportionately African American and Latino. Not only are we going to fight to end institutional racism and a broken criminal justice system, we are going to provide jobs and eduction for our young people, not jails and incarceration.”
On a personal note, Sanders says that “I’m not a pot smoker. I have, admittedly, some 30 or 40 years ago.” At a rally in Las Vegas, Sanders said his work to reform prohibition policies is not intended “to encourage anybody to smoke marijuana. I smoked marijuana twice and all I did was cough my guts out, so it didn’t work for me. But I do understand other people have had different experiences.” And he told KNPR radio that, “Yes I did [try marijuana]30 or 40 years ago. Didn’t do much for me, but I guess it does something different for other people.”
Rick Santorum – Republican
Rick Santorum dropped out of the race on February 3, 2016.
The former U.S. senator and congressman from Pennsylvania opposes legalization and, during his last campaign for president, in 2012, told a voter at a forum that he believes marijuana is “a hazardous thing for society.”
He has offered somewhat conflicting statements on whether he thinks states should be able to set their own marijuana laws without federal interference. He told the same previously mentioned voter that “states, under the Constitution, probably have the right to do it, just like they have the right to do medical marijuana laws, legally. But I don’t think they morally have the right to do things that are harmful to the people in their community. And therefore, I think the federal government should step in.”
During the same campaign, though, he told a Students for Sensible Drug Policy activist who asked whether she should be arrested for her marijuana use that it “depends what the laws in your states are.”
When the same activist followed up at another forum, Santorum said, “State drug laws are the principal drug laws” but that “the federal government does have a role in making sure that states don’t go out and legalize drugs.”
More recently, Santorum said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show that he thinks “federal laws should be enforced, and I think Colorado is violating the federal law. And if we have controlled substances, they’re controlled substances for a reason. The federal law is there for a reason, and the states shouldn’t have the option to violate federal law.”
He added, “as Abraham Lincoln said, you know, states don’t have the right to wrong. If there’s a federal law in place, then we need to either change the federal law to provide waivers to the states to be able to do that. But the president shouldn’t, as he has on numerous occasions, decide what laws he’s going to enforce unilaterally, and what laws he’s not going to enforce. The laws are in place. If anybody, I think, running for the Republican nomination wants to say a state option, that means that they should actually put forth legislation as president that gives them that option, because the current law doesn’t do that.”
Though Santorum’s position on marijuana federalism is unclear and complicated, he’s not at all hazy about his own past use of the drug. “I smoked pot when I was in college,” he told National Review. “Even during that time, I knew that what I was doing was wrong.” He told CNN’s Piers Morgan that his marijuana use “was something that I’m not proud of, but I did. And said it was something that I wish I hadn’t done. But I did and I admitted it, and I would encourage people not to do so. It was not all it’s made up to be.”
Scott Walker – Republican
Scott Walker dropped out of the race on September 21, 2015.
The governor of Wisconsin and former state legislator and county executive opposes full legalization but signed into law a limited policy aimed at allowing use of high-CBD cannabis extracts by children suffering from epilepsy. His position on whether the federal government should enforce prohibition in states that opt to legalize is unclear.
“I oppose legalizing marijuana use… It’s a gateway drug,” Walker said during a Q & A with radio host Huge Hewitt at an event for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “I get people want freedom and liberty. And normally I’m libertarian across the board. If you don’t violate the public health and public safety of your neighbor, knock yourself out… But I think that this one is a pretty convincing case that you are ultimately gonna lead to violating the public health of someone around you if you go down this path.”
Walker disagrees with people who compare recreational marijuana use to drinking alcohol. “If I’m at a wedding reception here and somebody has a drink or two, most people wouldn’t say they’re wasted. Most folks with marijuana wouldn’t be sitting around a wedding reception smoking marijuana,” he told reporters outside a meeting of the Badger State Sheriffs Association. “Now there are people who abuse [alcohol], no doubt about it, but I think it’s a big jump between someone having a beer and smoking marijuana.”
Similarly, Walker told CNN, “From my standpoint, I still have concerns about making it legal… I still have difficulty visualizing marijuana and alcohol in the same vein… There’s a huge difference out there.”
Walker isn’t swayed by the argument that legalization can generate new monies for state coffers. “As much as [Colorado has] brought revenues in, they’ve also increased costs related to social services and law enforcement,” he told WKOW-TV. “So I think it’s a long ways out before it’s clear as to what if anything would happen.”
The governor did sign off on a limited program allowing the use of CBD-rich cannabis extracts to treat severe seizure disorders. “It’s very controlled, from the examining board and oversight by pharmacists and physicians and I think that’s important moving forward,” he told WISC-TV. “This is not in any way what we see with other laws across the country.”
Walker opposes broader medical marijuana policies. “Federal law still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic and I believe state law should reflect this as well,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
But he has left the door open to considering broader reforms in the future. “I don’t think you’re going to see anything serious anytime soon [in Wisconsin], but if other states did, maybe in the next Legislative session there’d be more talk about it,” Walker told KITI-TV. “It may be something that resonates in the future, but I just don’t see any movement for it right now.”
If legalization does move forward in Wisconsin, Walker told the Associated Press he thinks it would be by a voter referendum on the ballot.
Walker’s position on federalism in marijuana policy remains murky. When asked whether marijuana laws should be left to the states or the federal government, Walker told the Orange County Register that it’s a “difficult” question.
“For me I think that should be a state issue but I also think that you can’t ignore the laws. And until the federal government changes the laws you don’t get to pick and choose in a just society whether you enforce the laws or not,” he separately told KTRS Radio. “I would enforce the law that was on the books no matter what it is. And again if we are going to change it, change it in the Congress. I believe it is a states issue, so I don’t have a problem changing it… I still think that’s something best handled at the state level. But the federal level, you’ve got to change the law. You don’t just get to pick and choose what laws you enforce.”
The press secretary for Walker’s political action committee told the Washington Times that “there are currently federal laws on the books that must be enforced, but ultimately he believes the best place to handle this issue is in the states.”
Walker says he’s never tried marijuana himself. “No,” he said in response to a question at a press conference. “The wildest thing I did in college was have a beer.”
Jim Webb – Democrat
Jim Webb dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination on October 20, 2015.
The former U.S. senator from Virginia and secretary of the U.S. Navy has repeatedly spoken out about America’s overincarceration problem and pushed for a broad overhaul of the entire criminal justice system. He hasn’t directly endorsed legalizing marijuana, but has hinted he might favor ending the prohibition approach to drugs.
“One of the most fascinating changes in our society in my adult lifetime has been the approach towards cigarette smoking. If you think about this, we didn’t make cigarettes illegal. We just got the information out there and educated people about the potential harm,” Webb said in an appearance before the National Sheriffs Association. “There have to be similar approaches when it comes to drug use.”
In his book “A Time to Fight,” Webb wrote, “The time has come to stop locking up people for mere possession and use of marijuana.” He also wrote that “the hugely expensive antidrug campaigns we are waging around the world are basically futile when it comes to actually preventing drug use in the United States.”
While serving in the Senate, Webb sponsored legislation to create a blue ribbon commission charged with conducting a top-to-bottom review of the criminal justice system and making recommendations for reforms. The legislation, which ultimately couldn’t secure enough voters to overcome a filibuster, called in its initial version for the commission to “make recommendations for changes in policies and laws designed to…restructure the approach to criminalization of, and incarceration as a result of the possession or use of illegal drugs.”
When asked by Huffington Post whether the commission should look specifically at legalizing marijuana, Webb said, “I think everything should be on the table, and we specifically say that we want recommendations on how to deal with drug policy in our country… I think they should do a very careful examination of all aspects of drug policy.”
Webb appears to favor letting states implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference. State-by-state legalization is an “interesting national experiment,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We’ll see how it plays out.”
Beyond drug policy, Webb is concerned with America’s approach to crime as a whole. “We have 5 percent of the world’s population. We have 25 percent of the world’s known prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States, the world’s greatest democracy, that is five times as high as the incarceration rate in the rest of the world,” he said on the Senate floor when introducing the commission bill. “There are only two possibilities. Either we have the most evil people on Earth living in the United States or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice.”
It is unclear if Webb has ever used marijuana himself.
Nothing in this post should be construed as support for or opposition to any candidate for public office. The above merely constitutes reporting of candidates’ stated positions on marijuana policy.