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2016 Presidential Candidate Calls Legalization ‘Positive’

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Legalizing marijuana may stem the flow of immigrants fleeing from Latin American drug war violence, says Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee.

Speaking at a forum in Iowa on Saturday, the former Rhode Island governor and U.S. senator said that marijuana legalization laws in the nation of Uruguay and a growing number of U.S. states “are all interesting, positive experiments.”

Referring to corruption and violence caused by the illegal drug trade, Chafee said, “This is really bad out there. Refugees fleeing, it’s a part of our immigration problem…the instability of these countries wracked by this problem. As controversial it might be, I think we have to think out of the box on this.”

While presidential candidates from both parties have expressed support for getting the federal government out of the way as more states legalize marijuana without federal interference, Chafee appears to be the first to characterize the development as positive rather than something to be merely grappled with and reacted to.

Fellow Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, for example, said he will “watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses” of state legalization laws. He has indicated that he’ll release a comprehensive marijuana policy platform in the next month. Many advocates expect that it will include an explicit endorsement of legalization, but that remains to be seen.

Hillary Clinton, also running for the Democratic nomination, has said that “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.”

On the Republican side, Rand Paul said, “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.”

And Jeb Bush says that legalizing marijuana is “a bad idea but states ought to have that right to do it.”

As governor of Rhode Island, Chafee signed a bill into law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

On the question of full legalization of marijuana, he’s previously said he’ll keeping an open mind. Colorado’s ending prohibition “opened a lot of eyes,” he told Bloomberg, for example.

“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.”

In April he told told U.S. News & World Report that his position on marijuana “will evolve during the [presidential]campaign.”

A full transcript of Chafee’s new remarks on legalization, from the #UniteIowa forum on immigration, is below:

“You talk about refugees fleeing the drug wars and my view is that we have to address this somehow internationally. Start with our hemisphere, but it’s really an international issue. And the United Nations is stepping up. I think they’re having a big conference on this in the spring of this coming year in ’16. And that’s just what we should be doing, all the countries getting together. The providers and the users and trying to… It permeates every level of government and corrupts it. It corrupts obviously the law enforcement, it corrupts — it’s got so much money in it — it corrupts the banking system. It corrupts the judicial system, the judges. There’s just so much money. And then the violence that’s associated. I know Uruguay is leading the way on legalization and taxing and regulating. And Colorado here in this country and the State of Washington. These are all interesting, positive experiments in my view. Because this is really bad out there. Refugees fleeing, it’s a part of our immigration problem. As I said the instability of these countries wracked by this problem. So again, as controversial it might be, I think we have to think out of the box on this. The United Nations, everybody coming together, is the way to do it.”

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