MARIJUANA: Where do the 2016 Presidential Candidates Stand?
The legalization movement in the United States has gained momentum in recent years. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia now have laws legalizing marijuana in some form. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
2016 presidential candidates and potential candidates from both parties have taken many positions on the issue, although none of them as of yet has actually advocated for outright legalization. Here’s a rundown of what the candidates have said regarding marijuana laws.
Let’s start with the Democrats
The democratic favorite expressed support for research into the potential benefits of marijuana. The former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady has said “I don’t think we have done enough research yet, although, I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions and have anecdotal evidence that it works, there should be availability under appropriate circumstances.”
On laws allowing recreational use, Clinton told CNN last year, ‘You know, states are the laboratories of democracy. We have at least two states that are experimenting with that right now. I want to see what the evidence is.”
The Vermont senator supports the legalization of medical marijuana. As a house member, Sanders has voted repeatedly in favor of amendments to prevent the DOJ 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 patients.
“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,” Sanders told 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.”
As far as legalization for recreational use, “I’m going to look at the issue. It’s not that I support it or don’t support it. To me it’s not one of the major issues facing our country,” Sanders told Time magazine.
The former Maryland governor has repeatedly spoke out against the use of marijuana for any and all purposes despite signing bills into law that decriminalized possession of small amounts.
In January of 2014 he told the Mark Steiner Radio Show, “I’m not much in favor of it. We’ve seen what drug addiction has done to the people of our state, to the people of our city. This drug, its use and abuse can be a gateway.
The former Virginia senator has advocated for marijuana decriminalization and is an outspoken opponent of the war on drugs. As senator, Webb introduced legislation to overhaul and revamp our criminal justice system. Webb wrote in his 2008 book, A Time to Fight, “The time has come to stop locking up people for mere possession and use of marijuana. It makes far more sense to take money that would be saved by such a policy and use it for enforcement [against] gang-related activities.”
Webb appears in favor of allowing states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference. State-by-state legalization is an “Interesting national experiment,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “We’ll see how it plays out.”
The former governor of Rhode Island has signed marijuana reforms into law and has expressed a willingness to explore the potential benefits of regulation and taxation. Chafee wants to wait and see what happens in states that have passed such legislation.
Chafee told the Huffington Post in February of last year, “We’ll see what comes out of the legislature. We’re just still in the putting medical marijuana component and we’ll see what’s happening in Colorado…Certainly the revenue is enticing for all governors. Somebody was saying to me back with the bad weather we’ve had back home, and all the potholes, we should have the revenue go to infrastructure.
On the question of full legalization, Chafee is keeping an open mind. Colorado’s ending prohibition has “opened a lot of eyes,” he told Bloomberg.
Although the vice president has not formally announced his candidacy, Biden is still considered a potential contender for the democratic nomination. As senator, Biden took a hard line against marijuana. He spearheaded legislation that created the federal “drug czar” position and mandatory minimum sentencing for marijuana-related offenses. As Vice President, Biden has continued to oppose legalization.
In 2010, Biden told ABC News, “I still believe it’s a gateway drug. I’ve spent a lot of my life as chairman of the judicial committee dealing with this. I think it would be a mistake to legalize.”
Now for the Republican candidates
The Kentucky Senator has actively worked to reform marijuana laws. Paul is the original sponsor of a bill that would effectively end the federal war on medical marijuana.
In an interview with Roll Call, Paul said, “I’m not for having the federal government get involved. I haven’t really taken a stand on…the actual legalization. I haven’t really taken a stand on that, but I’m against the federal government telling them they can’t.”
Senator Paul has also made it clear that while he supports reforming marijuana laws, he doesn’t think using the drug is a wise choice. “Even though it may not kill you, I don’t think it’s good for you,” he told WHAS-TV.
The former Florida Governor has a long history of supporting the drug war and is opposed to legalization for any purpose. Bush sits on the advisory board of the Drug Free America Foundation, a radical anti-marijuana organization.
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.”
The author and retired neurosurgeon has expressed some support for medical marijuana but rejects legalization citing the discredited “gateway drug” theory.
Carson told Fox News, “I think medical use of marijuana in compassionate cases has been proven to be useful. But recognize 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, and 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 and you know, it’s just, we’re changing so rapidly to a different type of society and nobody is getting a chance to discuss it because, you know, it’s taboo. It’s politically incorrect. You’re not supposed to talk about these things.”
The New Jersey Governor and former U.S. attorney opposes legalization and has spoken out many times against states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Although Christie has often called the war on drugs a failure, he adamantly opposes legalization and says as president he would enforce federal laws in states that have ended prohibition.
Christie has 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.”
At the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, Sen. Cruz said he is opposed to legalization for adult recreational use, but he also believes that states should have the right to establish their own marijuana policies. However, Cruz has also criticized the Obama Administration in the past for not enforcing federal marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington.
Cruz told the Texas Tribune in March of this year, “I don’t support drug legalization, but I do support the constitution. I think states can choose to adopt it. So, if Texas had it on the ballot, I’d vote against it, but I respect the authority of states to follow different policies.
The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, who has never held elected office, does not support legalizing marijuana for any purpose, including medical, but has recently supported decriminalization and the ability of states to choose their own policies on the issue.
“I don’t support legalized marijuana for a whole host of reasons, including the fact that this is a very complex chemical substance, and when we tell young people it is just like drinking a beer, we are not telling them the truth. But I think Colorado voters made a choice. I don’t support their choice, but I do support their right to make that choice.” – The Hill, June 9th, 2015
The South Carolina Senator supports legal access to medical marijuana, but is opposed to legalization for recreational use.
Graham has not taken a position on states’ rights to establish their own policies. He has voted against legislation that would prevent the Justice Department from interfering in state medical marijuana laws and tried unsuccessfully to switch his vote afterwards.
WBTV reported Graham as saying, “I’m against legalizing for recreational purposes. But when it comes to medical marijuana I think politicians should embrace laws that make sense.”
The former Arkansas Governor and Baptist pastor opposes legalization for any purpose, including medical.
In a C-SPAN piece, Huckabee said, “You know, I don’t support the idea of legalizing marijuana, so I want to be honest about that.”
The Louisiana Governor opposes legalization and favors enforcing federal laws in states that have ended prohibition. Jindal has expressed some support for limited medical marijuana.
“I don’t think anyone should be legalizing marijuana, I’ve said as long as it’s done under tight restrictions, I can be okay with that.” ABC News, Feb 2015
The Governor of Ohio is “totally opposed” to legalization for any purpose, but believes states should “probably” have the right to establish their own policies. In November, voters could make Ohio the first Midwest state to legalize marijuana.
“On medical marijuana, doctors that I know tell me we don’t need that, there are other ways to treat pain.” OhioCapitolBlog 2012
The former New York Governor is opposed to legalization for any purpose, but is a supporter of states having the ability to set their own policies.
Pataki told Bloomberg, “I am not in favor of legalizing marijuana, but having said that I am a great believer that states are the laboratory of democracy.”
The former Texas Governor is opposed to legalization, but has voiced support for reducing penalties for simple possession. Perry also supports states’ rights to set their own policies.
“I am a staunch promoter of the 10th Amendment. States should be able to set their own policies on abortion, same-sex marriage, and marijuana legalization.” US News & World Report, 2014
The Florida Senator opposes legalization, but has expressed some support for allowing the use of non-psychoactive forms of medical marijuana. Rubio does not support states’ rights to set their own policies.
Rubio told ABC News, “Marijuana is illegal under federal law. That law should be enforced.”
The former U.S. Senator and Congressman from Pennsylvania opposes legalization for any purpose. Santorum does not believe states should have the right to set their own policies.
During a campaign event in 2012, Santorum said, “The federal government does not have a role in making sure that drug use…that states don’t go out and legalize drugs. That there are drugs that are hazardous to people, that do great harm to the individual as well as society as a whole. And the federal government has a role in making sure those drugs are not in this country and not available, and that people who use them illegally are held accountable. Ideally, states should enforce these laws but the federal government has a role because it is a public health issue for the country.”
The successful businessman and reality television star opposes legalization, but supports access to medical marijuana and has also suggested support for letting states determine their own policies.
“I’d say [regulating marijuana] is bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it’s bad and I feel strongly about that.” [In response to states’ rights] “If they vote for it, they vote for it. But, you know, they’ve got a lot of problems going on in Colorado right now, big problems. But I think, medical marijuana, 100%.” C-SPAN 2015
The Wisconsin Governor believes in the debunked “gateway” theory and is opposed to legalization. Walker has also opposed decriminalization. It is unclear whether he supports states’ rights due to contradictory statements.
Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel back in 2010, “Federal law still classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 narcotic and I believe state law should reflect this as well.”
Mitt has not formally announced his candidacy but is rumored to be strongly considering another run at the White House in 2016. The American businessman and former Governor of Massachusetts is opposed to legalization for any purpose.
Speaking with students at the St. Anselm Institute of Politics back in 2007, “ I believe marijuana should be illegal in our country. It is the pathway to drug usage by our society, which is a great scourge…which is one of the great causes of crime in our cities and I believe we are at a state where, of course, we are very concerned about people who are suffering, and there are various means of providing pain management.”