Where Do Presidential Candidates Stand on Marijuana?| 0
The 2016 presidential field is taking 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.
Jeb Bush – Republican
The former Florida governor does not favor legalization, or even medical cannabis, but he does support letting states set their own marijuana laws without much federal interference.
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.”
Previously, he told the Miami Herald that, “I think that states ought to have a right to decide these things. I think the federal government’s role in our lives is way too-overreaching. But having said that, if you’re in Colorado and you can purchase marijuana openly, should people in Wyoming not be concerned about that? And I think there, maybe, the federal law needs to be looked at — interstate commerce.”
Bush also spoke out against a medical marijuana amendment that was on his state’s ballot. “Florida leaders and citizens have worked for years to make the Sunshine State a world-class location to start or run a business, a family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire,” he said. “Allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts. I believe it is the right of states to decide this issue, and I strongly urge Floridians to vote against Amendment 2 this November.”
As governor, Bush opposed a proposed ballot initiative that would have given first- and second-time drug offenders access to treatment instead of incarceration, even as his daughter Noelle underwent highly-publicized legal consequences stemming from a series of drug possession arrests. Calling the measure “misleading,” he said it would “destroy” Florida’s drug court program. “To suggest there should be no penalties for continued drug use is to stick our heads in the sand,” he said.
Bush himself has admitted to frequent marijuana use during his younger days, and is reported to even have sold hash on occasion. “I drank alcohol and I smoked marijuana” in high school, he said. “It was pretty common.”
Ben Carson – Republican
The retired neurosurgeon, who has never held elected office, says that marijuana has some medical value but opposes full legalization and would continue to enforce federal law even in states that have ended prohibition.
Carson told ABC News that legalization “should be completely off the table.” However, he added, “I have no problem with medical marijuana usage, and there are ways that it can be done that are very appropriate.”
Similarly, he told Fox News that, “I think medical use of marijuana in compassionate cases certainly has been proven to be useful.” But he went on to say 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, 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.”
Carson has also argued that marijuana use has long-term consequences. “We have known for a long time that people who engage in such activities can have flashbacks months and years after usage, that a lot of their abilities can be impaired at the time of use,” he told NewsMax TV. “So why would we throw into the mix something else that can impair people? We have enough impaired people already.”
When asked about the growing public support for legalization, Carson said it indicates that Americans are “much more interested in pleasure than we are in taking care of the severe business that faces us, and let’s look for ways to escape those things rather than actually face them… We’ve reached a point where, if it feels good, do it.”
Carson doesn’t think the federal government should let states implement legalization without interference. “Regular exposure to marijuana in the developing brain has been demonstrated definitively to result in decreased IQ. And the last thing we need is a bunch of people running around with decreased IQ,” he said at a press conference in Denver. “There are ways that you can create pills and ointments and things like that that are used for medicinal purposes while still enforcing federal law… [Yes I would enforce the federal drug laws in states such as Colorado] providing the use, the appropriate use of medical marijuana.”
On a personal note, Carson wrote in his book that, “Because of my love of God and my religious upbringing, I didn’t become involved in sex or drugs.”
Lincoln Chafee – Democrat
The former governor of Rhode Island, U.S. senator and mayor and city councilor of Warwick has signed marijuana reforms into law and pushed for changes to federal policy. Previously a Republican and then an independent, he’s now running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
As governor, he signed legislation decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.
He also joined with then-Washington Governor Christine Gregoire to petition the federal government to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II. “Americans’ attitudes toward medically prescribed marijuana are changing, and medical organizations throughout the country — including the Rhode Island Medical Society and the American Medical Association — have come to recognize the potential benefits of marijuana for medical use,” he said in a press release. “Patients across Rhode Island and across the United States, many of whom are in tremendous pain, stand to experience some relief. Governor Gregoire and I are taking this step to urge the Federal Government to consider allowing the safe, reliable, regulated use of marijuana for patients who are suffering.”
In the face of threats from a federal prosecutor, he initially put Rhode Island’s medical marijuana dispensary licensing program on hold, but then allowed it to go forward after the General Assembly passed legislation further regulating the providers.
On the question of full legalization of marijuana, Chafee is keeping an open mind. Colorado’s ending prohibition “opened a lot of eyes,” he told Bloomberg.
“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,” he said.
Chafee’s position on marijuana “will evolve during the [presidential]campaign,” he told U.S. News & World Report.
He has also raised concerns about the broader war on drugs. “I think we should be having an international discussion over our drug policy, whether it’s winning or losing the war on drugs, and the destabilizing effect that the illicit drug trade has…across the Western Hemisphere, and in Asia, and in Afghanistan,” Chafee told an activist with Students for Sensible Drug Policy. “The courts, the banking system, everything just gets corrupt as a result. And we’ve been on this for too long: Interdiction, intervention, substitution. We’ve been doing it and doing it and doing it. It just doesn’t seem to work.”
In his book “Against the Tide,” Chafee recounts meeting with the then-president of Uruguay, who said the U.S. should legalize drugs. “We will probably have this debate in the US, but not because Latin America is having it,” Chafee wrote. “The debate will come when we can no longer avoid confronting the destabilizing heroin trade in Afghanistan.”
On a personal level, Chafee admitted to using marijuana and cocaine while attending Brown University in the 1970s. “I had three choices: Lie, which was not an option, or evade it and receive the consequences of that, or be honest. And I chose to be honest,” he said.
Chris Christie – Republican
While the New Jersey governor and former U.S. attorney did allow his state’s medical marijuana program to move forward in the face of federal threats, he has been widely criticized for slow-walking its implementation. And though Christie often calls the war on drugs a failure, he staunchly opposes legalization and says he would enforce federal laws in states that have ended prohibition.
He even went so far as to specifically criticize voters in Colorado — a key presidential swing state — for opting to enact legalization. “For the people who are enamored with the idea of the income, the tax revenue from this, go to Colorado and see if you want to live there,” he said on New Jersey 101.5’s “Ask the Governor” program. “See if you want to live in a major city in Colorado where there’s head shops popping up on every corner and people flying into your airport just to come and get high. To me, it’s just not the quality of life we want to have here in the state of New Jersey and there’s no tax revenue that’s worth that.”
When asked how he would treat states that legalize marijuana if elected president, he responded, “Probably not well.”
Christie 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.”
Christie is not impressed by the tax revenues that legalization can generate. “To me, that’s blood money,” he said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a drug treatment center. “I’m not going to put the lives of children and citizens at risk to put a little more money into the state coffers, at least not on my watch.”
He also isn’t moved by the fact that marijuana reform is politically popular. “I don’t care quite frankly that people think it’s inevitable,” Christie said on the “Ask the Governor” program. “It’s not inevitable here. I’m not going to permit it. Never, as long as I’m governor. You want to elect somebody else who’s willing to legalize marijuana and expose our children to that gateway drug and the effects it has on their brain? You’ll have to live with yourself if you do that. But it’s not going to be this governor who does it.”
In another appearance on “Ask the Governor,” Christie claimed there is very little real demand for medical marijuana and that New Jersey’s program, which was signed into law by the previous governor, is “a front for legalization.”
Even though Christie isn’t a fan of marijuana reform, he has criticized the failure of the overall drug war on a number of occasions. “We will end the failed war on drugs that believes that incarceration is the cure of every ill caused by drug abuse,” he said during his second inaugural address as governor. “We will make drug treatment available to as many of our non-violent offenders as we can and we will partner with our citizens to create a society that understands that every life has value and no life is disposable.”
When asked if he’s ever tried marijuana himself, he tweeted, “The answer is no.”
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.”
Carly Fiorina – Republican
The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, who has never held elected office, personally opposes ending prohibition but supports the right of states to legalize marijuana without federal interference.
“I respect Colorado’s right to do what they did. They are within their rights to legalize marijuana and they are conducting an experiment that I hope the rest of the nation is looking closely at,” she told the Des Moines Register. “I believe in states’ rights. I would not, as president of the United States, enforce federal law in Colorado where Colorado voters have said they want to legalize marijuana.”
Even though Fiorina opposes legalization, she admits that it would generate billions of dollars in new taxes. But for her, marijuana’s revenue generating potential is actually a reason to continue prohibition. “Sending billions of dollars in new tax revenues to Sacramento is exactly the problem,” she said in response to a question about Proposition 19, the California legalization initiative that narrowly failed in 2010. “We’ve seen over and over again that Sacramento as well as Washington, D.C. have a spending problem.”
She told Yahoo News’s Katie Couric that she’s comfortable with the idea of marijuana having medicinal benefits but that it’s not “properly regulated” right now. “If we want to treat marijuana as a medicine, fine. Then regulate it as a medicine,” she said. “All you have to do is walk down Venice Beach. Anybody can get medicinal marijuana. It’s not a medicine. It’s a recreational drug right now.”
Fiorina seems to believe that using marijuana is more harmful than drinking alcohol. “I think what we’re doing, when we legalize marijuana we’re sending a signal to young people that marijuana’s just like a beer,” she said. “It’s not.”
She has indicated that she does support decriminalization, though, and not just for marijuana. Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Fiorina included “decriminalizing drug addiction and drug use” in a list of reforms at the state level she supports. “We need to treat it appropriately, and when you look at the stats, it’s clear that a lot of what goes on in an inner city like Baltimore is sort of like an industry: you have a lot of young people who are getting access to drugs and then they’re getting arrested frequently,” she said. “It’s just a bad, bad cycle.”
At a personal level, Fiorina refused to even consider using medical cannabis when she was diagnosed with cancer. “I remember when I had cancer and my doctor said, ‘Do you have any interest in medicinal marijuana?’” she recalled. “I did not.”
Lindsey Graham – Republican
The U.S. senator from South Carolina, who formerly severed in the U.S. House and as a state legislator, opposes legalization of marijuana.
“In general I do not support decriminalizing illegal drugs. I support enforcing our current laws relating to the purchase, distribution and consumption of illegal substances,” Graham wrote in a letter to a constituent. “Marijuana is a dangerous substance that can have a detrimental effect on the health of anyone who uses it.”
But Graham does support some forms of medical marijuana, at least when limited to CBD-rich preparations that can help children suffering from severe seizure disorders. “I’m putting myself in the shoes of a parent,” Graham told WBTV in Charlotte. “If this treatment helps their child with epileptic seizures, why stand in the way?”
The senator doesn’t seem to fully embrace medical cannabis, though: He voted against an Appropriations Committee amendment to allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans.
While serving in the House, Graham voted for a 1998 resolution “expressing the sense of Congress that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug and should not be legalized for medicinal use.”
Graham’s position on whether the federal government should interfere with state marijuana laws is somewhat unclear.
“Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Justice Department will not prosecute purveyors of medical marijuana provided they are in compliance with state and local laws,” he wrote in the constituent letter mentioned above. “I do not support this policy, as I feel it is tantamount to federal legalization of medical marijuana and creates an inconsistent federal enforcement policy between states.”
When asked by the reform group Just Say Now whether he favors continuing federal prohibition or states’ rights, Graham said, “I don’t see a real need for me to change the law up here. Marijuana’s half as bad as alcohol. That’s probably enough reason to keep it more regulated.”
But when the Washington Post asked Graham if he would work to overturn the District of Columbia’s voter-approved marijuana legalization law, he said, “To be honest, that’s pretty far down my list of priorities.”
It is unclear whether Graham has ever used marijuana.
Mike Huckabee – Republican
The former Arkansas governor and Baptist pastor opposes legalization and, while unsuccessfully running for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, said he would not stop the DEA from raiding and arresting patients and providers in states where medical marijuana is legal.
“I’m going to leave it up to the DEA whether they feel like there is a person who is being arrested because they are suffering from AIDS or because they really are doing something to significantly violate drug laws,” he said, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. “I think there are better ways to treat medical illnesses than the use of a drug that has really caused so many more people to have their lives injured than it has to necessarily have their lives helped.”
When confronted on the campaign trail by a New Hampshire medical marijuana patient, Huckabee said, “I’m not going to put you in jail, Linda. That’s not the point we would do. But I think the question is would I favor the legalization at a federal level, and until there is some stronger scientific evidence, I am reluctant to do that.”
Much more recently, Huckabee pointed to the tax revenue Colorado has generated with legal marijuana sales and asked “at what cost” the funds come. “The money is earmarked for youth prevention services, substance abuse treatment and public health,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “But what is a young person supposed to think when the state says, ‘Don’t do drugs…even though everyone around you is…and the same authority figures who tell you it’s bad not only condone it, but are also making a big profit off it’?”
Huckabee says he’s never used marijuana. “While other candidates are being outed for their teenage drug use, their teenage alcohol use, their teenage partying hard, doing all sorts of destructive things like painting graffiti on bridges, the scandal with me is that I wrote a column at age 17 telling Christian young people to live a godly life,” he said on Washington Watch with Tony Perkins.
Bobby Jindal – Republican
The governor of Louisiana and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives opposes legalization and favors enforcing federal laws even in states that have ended prohibition, but signed into law a limited medical marijuana bill that his own state legislature passed.
“I’m not for legalization of marijuana. I think that would be a mistake,” Jindal said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show.
“I’m certainly not for the president of the United States being able to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow. And I think this is a very dangerous precedent this president has started,” he continued, referring to the Obama administration’s mostly hand-off approach to state marijuana laws. “I don’t think you can ignore federal law. Federal law is still the law of the land. It still needs to be enforced… I don’t think the president gets to pick and choose. And if people don’t like the law, they should try to change the law. They shouldn’t just say we’re going to stop, start ignoring these laws.”
While serving in Congress, Jindal voted against amendments to prevent the Justice Department from interfering with state medical marijuana laws in 2005, 2006 and 2007, though he has left the door open to reexamining federal laws. “If it makes sense, if there are federal laws that need to be re-examined, I’d be willing to look at those,” he told the Des Moines Register.
The governor has given his support to a restrictive medical marijuana program passed by Louisiana state lawmakers. “Our view on medical marijuana was, it had to be supervised and had to be a legitimate medical purpose and his bill meets that criteria,” Jindal said during a press conference.” He also discussed his views on medical marijuana during a visit to Iowa. “As long as it’s tightly controlled and truly genuine medical purposes, not just simply an excuse for legalizing marijuana… If it truly is tightly controlled, supervised by physicians, I’m OK with that,” he said.
Jindal also signed a separate bill to lower Louisiana’s marijuana penalties, although, even under the reforms, the state’s laws would still remain among the toughest in the nation. “We are fine with the idea of providing rehabilitation and treatment for non-violent drug offenders, and I think this bill does that,” he said. “I think that’s good for those offenders and it’s good for taxpayers.”
He criticized America’s overincarceration problem during an interview on CNN’s State of the Union. “We lock up too many people for casual drug use,” he said. “What I mean by that is that, certainly, non-violent, non-repeat offenders, those that aren’t committing other crimes, we should look at treatment and rehabilitation.”
In his book “Leadership and Crisis,” Jindal wrote that he never tried drugs as a young man. “I generally avoided trouble as a kid… I never got arrested, never experimented with drugs, and generally lived a life that was like Leave It to Beaver with a Louisiana twist.”
John Kasich – Republican
The governor of Ohio and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Fox News Channel host opposes legalization and medical cannabis, but has expressed openness to letting states set their own marijuana laws without federal interference.
“I’m totally opposed to [legalization], because it is a scourge in this country,” Kasich said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “In my state and across this country, if I happened to be president, I would lead a significant campaign down at the grassroots level to stomp these drugs out of our country. We’re doing it in Ohio in a variety of ways through education, prosecution, and it’s an unbelievably serious problem.”
In an appearance on WHIO-TV, Kasich said that Ohio would not legalize marijuana if it were up to him. “We’re not gonna do that if I have any say about it,” he said.
When asked by the Ohio Capital Blog whether he could imagine a scenario where he would support medical marijuana, Kasich said, “No… I’m not for it… There’s better ways to help people who are in pain.”
While serving in the House, Kasich voted for a 1998 resolution “expressing the sense of Congress that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug and should not be legalized for medicinal use.”
Unlike several other Republican governors, Kasich even opposes limited laws aimed at providing CBD-rich cannabis preparations to children suffering from severe seizure disorders. “I’d do anything for kids,” he told the Cincinnati Enquirer editorial board. “But we’ve got to do what’s medically recommended by people who have gone to medical school and have a license.”
Despite his personal opposition to marijuana reform, Kasich does seem open to letting states legalize without federal harassment. “I mean, the state has voted for it, you know what I mean? On what grounds would you shut them down?” he said on Hugh Hewitt’s show. “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.”
It is unclear whether Kasich has ever tried marijuana himself.
Martin O’Malley – Democrat
The former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor and city councilor signed laws decriminalizing marijuana possession and legalizing medical cannabis into law, but not before he spent years vocally opposing such reforms.
“As a young prosecutor, I once thought that decriminalizing the possession of marijuana might undermine the Public Will necessary to combat drug violence and improve public safety,” O’Malley said in a statement announcing the he would sign the bill. “I now think that decriminalizing possession of marijuana is an acknowledgement of the low priority that our courts, our prosecutors, our police, and the vast majority of citizens already attach to this transgression of public order and public health. Such an acknowledgment in law might even lead to a greater focus on far more serious threats to public safety and the lives of our citizens.”
O’Malley also shifted his position on medical cannabis. In 2012, he threatened to veto a medical marijuana proposal that the Maryland state legislature was considering. The following year, his administration endorsed a scaled-back proposal to distribute marijuana through academic hospitals. His backing gave the bill a boost, and the legislature passed it. When that law, upon further scrutiny by policymakers, appeared that it wouldn’t actually help very many patients, the legislature moved ahead with enacting a more comprehensive medical cannabis program. O’Malley remained largely silent as the legislature considered and passed the bill, and then surprised many advocates by signing it and the decriminalization bill into law on the same day.
Despite coming around on those reforms, O’Malley hasn’t endorsed full legalization. “I’m not much in favor of it,” he said on Marc Steiner’s radio show. “I’ve seen what drug addiction has done to the people of our state, the people of our city. And I also know that this drug and its use and its abuse can be a gateway to even more harmful behavior.”
On CNN, he said, “In our state, a lot of the new opportunities that are opening up for our kids in security and cyber security and other things, they require a background check and they require that kids have clean records.” When host Candy Crowley pointed out that legalization would result in fewer people getting criminal records, he said, “Yes, but we can’t do that as a state. That would be something only the nation could do.” Crowley then reminded him that some states are already legalizing marijuana. “And for Colorado perhaps that’s a good choice and perhaps there’s things we can learn from their experiment as a laboratory in democracy,” O’Malley said.
Similarly, in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, he said, “I believe it’s best for Maryland to learn from experiments underway in Colorado and Washington and to be guided according to whether more good than harm is done.”
O’Malley says he’s never used marijuana, according to a report from the Baltimore Chronicle.
George Pataki – Republican
The former New York governor, state legislator and mayor of Peekskill opposes legalization but is a supporter of states’ rights to enact their own marijuana laws. However, he believes that federal law needs to be changed first.
“I’m a great believer in the 10th Amendment,” Pataki told Hugh Hewitt. “So I would be very strongly inclined to change the federal law to give states, when they’ve had a referenda, the opportunity with respect to marijuana to decriminalize it,” but with a few caveats.
“I would not be adverse to changing the law if we could guarantee…no spillover to adjacent states, protection for minorities that are ironclad, and the third is there’s no increase in dependency as a result of that,” he said. “You know, if all of a sudden we see states like whatever the state that legalizes it is resulting in much higher dependency costs that the federal government has to pay for, then I think the federal government has the right to say you can’t do that.”
As governor, Pataki opposed efforts to legalize medical cannabis in New York, saying his medical advisers urged against it. “They have concluded that it is not justified at this time, that there are alternatives, and I support that conclusion,” he said, according to the New York Times.
More recently, when asked by Bloomberg News about the limited medical marijuana bill signed into law by current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Pataki said, “I don’t think it’s a step in the right direction. I am not in favor of legalized marijuana.”
Pataki has admitted using marijuana while a law student at Columbia University, and in a fairly unorthodox way: He put it into baked beans. “I didn’t think it would work in soup, so we tried baked beans,” he said on Howard Stern’s radio show. But he said that method of ingestion “had zero impact, which is probably why it never caught on.”
He also tried consuming cannabis by the more traditional route of smoking. “And, yes, I did inhale,” Pataki wrote in his 1998 autobiography. But he found that it had “no real appeal,” because friends who used it “tended to go off in their own heads somewhere” and that it was “too anti-social for me.”
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.”
Rick Perry – Republican
The former Texas governor, lieutenant governor, commissioner of agriculture and state legislator personally opposes legalization but takes a strong stance in favor of states’ rights to enact their own marijuana policies without federal interference.
“I’m a big believer in the 10th Amendment,” he said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “I don’t agree with those decisions that were made by…the state of Colorado or Washington, but I will defend it to my death, if you will, to allow them to make those decisions… I think they will look back and they will find that it was a huge error that they made. But I’m going to stick with the founding fathers rather than picking and choosing which [state laws] I want to defend and which ones I don’t.”
He told the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart that, “[If] you want to go somewhere where you can smoke medicinal weed, then you ought to be able to do that.”
Perry has raised concerns about the failure of the overall war on drugs and suggested he supports alternatives to incarceration for drug offenders.
“The point is that after 40 years of the war on drugs, I can’t change what happened in the past. What I can do as the governor of the second largest state in the nation is to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization and keeps people from going to prison and destroying their lives, and that’s what we’ve done over the last decade,” he said at the World Economic Forum.
Perry says he’s never used marijuana. “No, thank God,” he told Jimmy Kimmel. “But does second-hand count? Because I think there’s still some left in there where Snoop [Dogg] was,” referring to Kimmel’s backstage area, where the rapper hung out on the previous day.
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.’”
Bernie Sanders – Democrat/Independent
The U.S. senator and former House member from Vermont, who also served as mayor of Burlington, is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sanders supports decriminalization and has co-sponsored and voted in favor of incremental marijuana reforms on a number of occasions, but appears to have taken varying positions on full legalization over the years.
As a House member, Sanders repeatedly voted in favor of amendments to prevent the Department of Justice 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 medical patients. He also voted against a 1998 resolution “expressing the sense of Congress that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug and should not be legalized for medicinal use.”
In a 1972 letter, Sanders appeared to endorse legalizing all drugs. He wrote that “there are entirely too many laws that regulate human behavior. Let us abolish all laws which attempt to impose a particular brand of morality or ‘right’ on people. Let’s abolish all laws dealing with…drugs…”
Much more recently, Sanders told TIME, that marijuana legalization “is a trend, but I think it has a lot of political support from young people especially. It probably will continue to move forward.”
He added, “I’m going to look at the issue. It’s not that I support it or don’t support it. To me it is not one of the major issues facing this country. I’ll look at it.”
Sanders supports his home state’s marijuana decriminalization law. “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,” he said during 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. Our police had more important things to do.”
He added that he’ll be keeping an eye on how legalization develops in states that are implementing it. “Colorado has led the effort toward legalizing marijuana and I’m going to watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses of what they have done. I will have more to say about this issue within the coming months.”
Sanders has also raised concern about the broader drug war. “We have been engaged in [the war on drugs]for decades now with a huge cost and the destruction of a whole lot of lives of people who were never involved in any violent activities,” he said.
On a personal note, Sanders says that “I’m not a pot smoker. I have, admittedly, some 30 or 40 years ago.”
Rick Santorum – Republican
The former U.S. senator and congressman from Pennsylvania opposes legalization and, during his last campaign for president, in 2012, told a voter at a forum that he believes marijuana is “a hazardous thing for society.”
He has offered somewhat conflicting statements on whether he thinks states should be able to set their own marijuana laws without federal interference. He told the same previously mentioned voter that “states, under the Constitution, probably have the right to do it, just like they have the right to do medical marijuana laws, legally. But I don’t think they morally have the right to do things that are harmful to the people in their community. And therefore, I think the federal government should step in.”
During the same campaign, though, he told a Students for Sensible Drug Policy activist who asked whether she should be arrested for her marijuana use that it “depends what the laws in your states are.”
When the same activist followed up at another forum, Santorum said, “State drug laws are the principal drug laws” but that “the federal government does have a role in making sure that states don’t go out and legalize drugs.”
More recently, Santorum said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show that he thinks “federal laws should be enforced, and I think Colorado is violating the federal law. And if we have controlled substances, they’re controlled substances for a reason. The federal law is there for a reason, and the states shouldn’t have the option to violate federal law.”
He added, “as Abraham Lincoln said, you know, states don’t have the right to wrong. If there’s a federal law in place, then we need to either change the federal law to provide waivers to the states to be able to do that. But the president shouldn’t, as he has on numerous occasions, decide what laws he’s going to enforce unilaterally, and what laws he’s not going to enforce. The laws are in place. If anybody, I think, running for the Republican nomination wants to say a state option, that means that they should actually put forth legislation as president that gives them that option, because the current law doesn’t do that.”
Though Santorum’s position on marijuana federalism is unclear and complicated, he’s not at all hazy about his own past use of the drug. “I smoked pot when I was in college,” he told National Review. “Even during that time, I knew that what I was doing was wrong.” He told CNN’s Piers Morgan that his marijuana use “was something that I’m not proud of, but I did. And said it was something that I wish I hadn’t done. But I did and I admitted it, and I would encourage people not to do so. It was not all it’s made up to be.”
Donald Trump – Republican
The businessman and former reality television host supports medical marijuana but has taken conflicting positions on full legalization over the years. He appears to support the right of states to enact their own marijuana laws without federal interference.
In 1990, Trump called for legalizing all drugs. “We’re losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war,” he said. “You have to take the profit away from these drug czars… What I’d like to do maybe by bringing it up is cause enough controversy that you get into a dialogue on the issue of drugs so people will start to realize that this is the only answer; there is no other answer.”
But at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump stated that he’s against the legalization of marijuana. “I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about that,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems.” However, when asked about the states’ rights aspect to marijuana laws, Trump said, “If they vote for it, they vote for it.
“Medical marijuana is another thing,” he added. “I think medical marijuana, 100 percent.”
In his book “The America We Deserve,” Trump claims that he’s never tried marijuana. “I’ve never taken drugs of any kind, never had a glass of alcohol. Never had a cigarette, never had a cup of coffee,” he wrote.
Scott Walker – Republican
The governor of Wisconsin and former state legislator and county executive opposes full legalization but signed into law a limited policy aimed at allowing use of high-CBD cannabis extracts by children suffering from epilepsy. His position on whether the federal government should enforce prohibition in states that opt to legalize is unclear.
“I oppose legalizing marijuana use… It’s a gateway drug,” Walker said during a Q & A with radio host Huge Hewitt at an event for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “I get people want freedom and liberty. And normally I’m libertarian across the board. If you don’t violate the public health and public safety of your neighbor, knock yourself out… But I think that this one is a pretty convincing case that you are ultimately gonna lead to violating the public health of someone around you if you go down this path.”
Walker disagrees with people who compare recreational marijuana use to drinking alcohol. “If I’m at a wedding reception here and somebody has a drink or two, most people wouldn’t say they’re wasted. Most folks with marijuana wouldn’t be sitting around a wedding reception smoking marijuana,” he told reporters outside a meeting of the Badger State Sheriffs Association. “Now there are people who abuse [alcohol], no doubt about it, but I think it’s a big jump between someone having a beer and smoking marijuana.”
Similarly, Walker told CNN, “From my standpoint, I still have concerns about making it legal… I still have difficulty visualizing marijuana and alcohol in the same vein… There’s a huge difference out there.”
Walker isn’t swayed by the argument that legalization can generate new monies for state coffers. “As much as [Colorado has] brought revenues in, they’ve also increased costs related to social services and law enforcement,” he told WKOW-TV. “So I think it’s a long ways out before it’s clear as to what if anything would happen.”
The governor did sign off on a limited program allowing the use of CBD-rich cannabis extracts to treat severe seizure disorders. “It’s very controlled, from the examining board and oversight by pharmacists and physicians and I think that’s important moving forward,” he told WISC-TV. “This is not in any way what we see with other laws across the country.”
Walker opposes broader medical marijuana policies. “Federal law still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic and I believe state law should reflect this as well,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
But he has left the door open to considering broader reforms in the future. “I don’t think you’re going to see anything serious anytime soon [in Wisconsin], but if other states did, maybe in the next Legislative session there’d be more talk about it,” Walker told KITI-TV. “It may be something that resonates in the future, but I just don’t see any movement for it right now.”
If legalization does move forward in Wisconsin, Walker told the Associated Press he thinks it would be by a voter referendum on the ballot.
Walker’s position on federalism in marijuana policy remains murky. When asked whether marijuana laws should be left to the states or the federal government, Walker told the Orange County Register that it’s a “difficult” question.
The press secretary for Walker’s political action committee told the Washington Times that “there are currently federal laws on the books that must be enforced, but ultimately he believes the best place to handle this issue is in the states.”
Walker says he’s never tried marijuana himself. “No,” he said in response to a question at a press conference. “The wildest thing I did in college was have a beer.”
Jim Webb – Democrat
The former U.S. senator from Virginia and secretary of the U.S. Navy has repeatedly spoken out about America’s overincarceration problem and pushed for a broad overhaul of the entire criminal justice system. He hasn’t directly endorsed legalizing marijuana, but has hinted he might favor ending the prohibition approach to drugs.
“One of the most fascinating changes in our society in my adult lifetime has been the approach towards cigarette smoking. If you think about this, we didn’t make cigarettes illegal. We just got the information out there and educated people about the potential harm,” Webb said in an appearance before the National Sheriffs Association. “There have to be similar approaches when it comes to drug use.”
In his book “A Time to Fight,” Webb wrote, “The time has come to stop locking up people for mere possession and use of marijuana.” He also wrote that “the hugely expensive antidrug campaigns we are waging around the world are basically futile when it comes to actually preventing drug use in the United States.”
While serving in the Senate, Webb sponsored legislation to create a blue ribbon commission charged with conducting a top-to-bottom review of the criminal justice system and making recommendations for reforms. The legislation, which ultimately couldn’t secure enough voters to overcome a filibuster, called in its initial version for the commission to “make recommendations for changes in policies and laws designed to…restructure the approach to criminalization of, and incarceration as a result of the possession or use of illegal drugs.”
When asked by Huffington Post whether the commission should look specifically at legalizing marijuana, Webb said, “I think everything should be on the table, and we specifically say that we want recommendations on how to deal with drug policy in our country… I think they should do a very careful examination of all aspects of drug policy.”
Webb appears to favor letting states implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference. State-by-state legalization is an “interesting national experiment,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We’ll see how it plays out.”
Beyond drug policy, Webb is concerned with America’s approach to crime as a whole. “We have 5 percent of the world’s population. We have 25 percent of the world’s known prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States, the world’s greatest democracy, that is five times as high as the incarceration rate in the rest of the world,” he said on the Senate floor when introducing the commission bill. “There are only two possibilities. Either we have the most evil people on Earth living in the United States or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice.”
It is unclear if Webb has ever used marijuana himself.
Nothing in this post should be construed as support for or opposition to any candidate for public office. The above merely constitutes reporting of candidates’ stated positions on marijuana policy.