In this post from Marijuana News, Tom Angell reports the presidential candidates’ stated positions on marijuana policy. Nothing in this post should be construed as support for or opposition to any candidate for public office.
The 2016 presidential field is starting to take shape, and many of the candidates are weighing in on the debate about marijuana.
Here’s a roundup of what the declared candidates have said about cannabis policy, as well as what they’ve admitted about their own marijuana consumption.
This post will be updated as new candidates officially enter the race. All candidates are listed in alphabetical order.
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. “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 recreational, you know, states are the laboratories of democracy. We have at least two states that are experimenting with that right now,” she said. “I want to wait and see what the evidence is.”
Those comments indicate an openness to letting states enact their own marijuana laws without federal interference but, on the other hand, Clinton also 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.”
During her last presidential campaign, in 2007, she said, “I don’t think we should decriminalize it.”
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 a personal level, she said she’s “absolutely not” tried marijuana. “I didn’t do it when I was young. I’m not going to start now.”
Ted Cruz – Republican
The U.S. senator from Texas isn’t a fan of legalization but has said that when it comes to states that want to end prohibition, “that’s their right.”
However, he 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.”
Earlier this year, 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?”
Cruz’s overall 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 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 fellow presidential contender Rand Paul and others have introduced to stop federal raids on state-legal medical marijuana patients and providers.
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.”
Rand Paul – Republican
The U.S. senator from Kentucky is one of the only candidates who has actively worked to reform marijuana laws. For example, he is an original sponsor of a bill that would effectively end the federal war on medical marijuana. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act of 2015, which Paul introduced with a biapartisan 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 allow V.A. doctors to recommend medical cannabis to military veterans, among other changes.
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.
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. “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.”
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.”
Marco Rubio – Republican
The U.S. senator and former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives opposes legalization and decriminalization.
“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.”
Rubio appears to be the only declared candidate who 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.”
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.’”