Sanders and Clinton Differ on Marijuana Legalization | Marijuana

Sanders and Clinton Differ on Marijuana Legalization


The remaining Democratic presidential contenders agree that states should be able to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference, but the two candidates have differing positions on whether they would personally vote to legalize cannabis if it were on the ballot in their state.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders said at a rally in Stockton, California on Tuesday that he would vote for legalization in his home state of Vermont.

He also added praise for a legalization measure that is likely to appear on California’s ballot this November, calling it “pretty good.”

Similarly, on Monday, Sanders told the Sacramento Bee, “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… Everything being equal, yes, I do favor a legalization of marijuana.”

Previously, Sanders made headlines last October by becoming the first major presidential candidate in history to imply he would personally back ending cannabis prohibition. “I suspect I would vote yes,” he said when asked during this election cycle’s first Democratic primary debate, in Nevada, about the marijuana legalization initiative that has now qualified for that state’s November ballot.

Sanders’s rival for the Democratic nomination, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, has been more circumspect when pressed on the issue.

“Well, clearly this is going to be decided by the people of California. I’m interested in following and evaluating what states are doing,” Clinton said when asked by San Francisco’s CBS affiliate last Friday whether she would support the proposed ballot measure in the Golden State. “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.”

Similarly, in an appearance last month on ABC’s Good Morning America, Clinton said, “I think I would have to study that more to see how it was phrased because it’s been phrased differently in different states… 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.”

Both Democratic contenders, along with sole remaining Republican candidate Donald Trump, have said on numerous occasions that they would respect the right of states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference, regardless of their own position on legalization.

For example, Sanders has said:

  • “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.”

Clinton has 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.”
  • “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.”

And Trump has said:

  • “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.”

Find out what else the presidential contenders have said about cannabis law by reading’s comprehensive guide to the candidates.

Photo Courtesy of Joseph Sohm.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for 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.)


  1. KansanForLegalization on

    Clinton’s stagnation, and Trump’s volitility combined with staffing advice from Chris Kristy should greatly concern anyone interested in marijuana policy reform in the next 4 years. It’ll have to be done on the local level which seems impossible in states without ballot initiatives.

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