Marijuana: Every Presidential Candidate Pledges to Let States Legalize

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For the first time in American history, every major presidential candidate in both the Republican and Democratic parties supports letting states legalize marijuana without federal interference.

With Sen. Marco Rubio’s withdrawal from the GOP nominating contest after a devastating loss in his home state of Florida on Tuesday, there are no contenders left in the race who have pledged to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that opt to end prohibition.

While some of the remaining candidates have stronger states’ rights positions on cannabis than others, all to varying degrees have said they prefer letting state legalization programs be implemented over sending in the DEA to shut them down.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has not only pledged to end the federal war on marijuana, but has indicated he personally supports legalization and would vote yes if given the chance on a state ballot. He has also introduced the first-ever Senate legislation to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.

  • “I would instruct DOJ not to interfere with states who have legalized or decriminalized marijuana.”
  • “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.”
  • “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. 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.”
  • “We need to take marijuana off the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs.”

Sanders’s rival for the nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has also said she wants states to be able to implement their own marijuana laws. But unlike Sanders, she hasn’t expressed personal support for ending prohibition. And rather than remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act altogether, she’s proposed moving it from Schedule I to Schedule II, a slightly less restrictive category that could make scientific research somewhat easier.

  • “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.”
  • “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.”
  • “I would support states and localities that are experimenting with this.”
  • “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.”

Among the Republican candidates, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas personally opposes legalization but is a strong believer in states’ rights. However, he has also criticized the Obama administration for not enforcing marijuana prohibition policies that are currently on the books, indicating that he thinks federal law needs to be changed before states should be able to move ahead unimpeded.

  • “I actually think this is great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the laboratories of democracy.’ 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.”
  • “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.”
  • “The Obama administration’s approach to drug policy is to simply announce that across the country, it is gonna stop enforcing certain drug laws. 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.”

Businessman Donald Trump once appeared to suggest legalizing all drugs, though now says he personally opposes legalizing marijuana. But he says it’s up to states to decide and he’s voiced strong support for medical marijuana, saying he knows people who have benefitted from it. On some occasions, though, he’s given indications his support of states’ rights to legalize could waver.

  • “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.”
  • “They’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems… If they vote for it, they vote for it.”
  • “[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… I think that should be up to the states.”
  • “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… 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.”

Finally, among the remaining contenders, Ohio Gov. John Kasich strongly opposes ending prohibition, calling drugs like marijuana a “scourge.” He campaigned against a legalization measure on his state’s ballot but has given indications he would not interfere as president if other states chose to legalize cannabis.

  • “I mean, the state has voted for it, you know what I mean? On what grounds would you shut them down? 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.”
  • “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.”

Former candidate Marco Rubio, for his part, was one of only two people in the race who vocally and strongly pledged to enforce federal marijuana in states that legalized marijuana.

  • “Marijuana is illegal under federal law. That should be enforced. 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.”
  • “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?”
  • “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.

Similarly, former Republican candidate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie often campaigned on the idea of sending the DEA in to states that have legalized marijuana. Some advocates have expressed concern about Christie’s recent endorsement of Donald Trump, who has at times seemed to waver in his support of states’ rights and could be swayed by the influence of a true believer in prohibition like Christie, especially if he were to serve as U.S. attorney general in a Trump administration, as has been speculated.

  • “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.”
  • “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.”
  • “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.”

The fact that every remaining candidate in the race has pledged to let states legalize marijuana without federal interference is a sign of how the issue has rapidly shifted from a marginalized one that politicians mostly avoided to the forefront of mainstream American politics.

To see what else the current and former candidates have said about cannabis, check out Marijuana.com’s comprehensive guide.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Marijuana.com. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)

3 Comments

  1. Charles Rebbel on

    And I quote: “At 20.5%, Colorado has the lowest percentage of obese residents of any state in the U.S., according to a 2012 CDC report. And Boulder has the highest percentage of citizens with a healthy body weight — 51.6% — of any area in the country, according to a 2012 Gallup Healthways poll.”

    Last time I checked Colorado was known for being one of the healthiest states in America. If Trump had stuck to what he said back in 2010, that the only way the government can win the War on Drugs is by legalizing drugs and educating about their harms, then that would put Trump ahead in progressive drug policy above even Sanders.

    However, it looks like he’s slowly moving in the opposite direction, or at the very least the issue of drugs is barely on his radar; same as Clinton. The legalization of drugs would have a far more reaching and positive impact on the southern border than his wall ever will.

    A Sander’s presidency seems far more likely to inspire real drug law reform than any other candidate up there right now. Obama today has the power as president to compel the DEA to reclassify marijuana, and he simply doesn’t.

    To me, another president like Obama is worst than death itself. Melodramatics aside.

  2. While I’m thankful to hear that the remaining runners don’t plan on shutting down state legalization efforts, it’s just not enough effort in my opinion. The only presidential runner actually supporting states rights on this issue is Sanders. Hillary is not, she wants to only reduce it to schedule 2 but maintain it as an illegal substance to support the police unions super PAC and private prison super pack that’s donated hugely to her campaign. Cruz says he is but isn’t willing to co sign or vote for removing federal drug laws. Trump, who knows what he would do, after all he says whatever he think will get him elected as he previously supported legalization but now states he’s against legalization but for states rights.

    Only one campaign is truely offering a solid states rights support and that is Sanders. Everyone else is wishy washy, half in half out for 2 sides votes, or just so incredibly tied financially to continuing a failed drug war.

    The choice is simple for me.

  3. Michael Miller on

    Someone needs to tell Trump that there are many more GOOD things happening in Colorado, and that legalization has actually been a huge success to this point.

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