As the field of 2016 presidential candidates expands, views on legalizing cannabis continue to “evolve” for most contenders, with opinions falling roughly into these camps:
- Over my cold, dead body (Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson) or;
- Let states do the dirty work (most contenders) or;
- Federal action matters (Rand Paul).
Here’s an alphabetical list of the best known candidates from both parties and their views on pot:
Jeb Bush (R) has recently embraced the increasingly popular Republican stance that cannabis legislation is a matter for states to figure out for themselves. When it was his turn to do the figuring out during his term as Florida governor, Bush did nothing to advance cannabis law reform in his state. As recently as August 2014 he “strongly” urged Floridians to vote against Amendment 2, a medical marijuana ballot initiative, warning that “large-scale, marijuana operations” could take root across Florida “under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes.”
As a potential U.S. president, Bush said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2015 that Colorado’s legalization of marijuana was a “bad idea” and that he would have voted “no” if he were living in the state at the time. However went on to tell Fox News’ Sean Hannity, MC at the event, that “states ought to have that right to do it.”
Pot-virgin? “I drank alcohol and I smoked marijuana when I was at Andover,” Bush said in a Boston Globe interview in February 2015, referring to his experiences at the elite Phillips Academy prep school.
Ben Carson (R) Is opposed to legalizing recreational cannabis, but said in a Fox News interview in 2014 that “Medical use of marijuana in compassionate cases has been proven to be useful, but recognize that marijuana is what is known as a gateway drug– a starter for people who move on to heavier duty drugs. I don’t think this is something we really want for our society. ” He went on, telling Greta Van Susteren: “You know, we’re gradually just removing all the barriers to hedonistic activity. We’re changing so rapidly to a different type of society, and nobody is getting a chance to discuss it because it’s taboo.”
Pot-virgin? In his autobiography, Carson wrote: “Because of my love of God and my religious upbringing, I didn’t become involved in sex or drugs.”
Chris Christie (R) vigorously opposes legalization and has said he believes that cannabis is a “gateway drug” and medical marijuana programs are a “front” for recreational legalization. Although the New Jersey governor said in his 2014 inaugural speech that he wants to see an end to the “failed” war on drugs (which in practice has focused largely on cannabis seizures), he has promised to “crack down” on states like Colorado should he become president.
Public opinion appears to cut no ice with Christie, who has ignored a majority of New Jersey residents on issues ranging from pig gestation crates, Bridgegate, gun-rights, and medical marijuana. In 2013, after a public confrontation with Brian Wilson, whose daughter suffers from Dravet Syndrome, Christie signed the so-called “pot for tots” bill, which permitted limited access to medical marijuana for such children. Later the same year, Christie declined to permit registered medical marijuana patients in New Jersey to consume medicine purchased legally in another state. During a press conference, he told reporters: “See this is what happens. Every time you sign one expansion, then the advocates will come back and ask for another one. Here’s what the advocates want: They want legalization of marijuana in New Jersey. It will not happen on my watch, ever. ”
Pot-virgin? Christie says he has never smoked pot.
Hillary Clinton (D) seems to share the Obama administration’s position on letting states lead the march toward reform, saying during a recent town hall discussion with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, “On recreational, you know, states are the laboratories of democracy. We have at least two states that are experimenting with that right now,” referring to Colorado and Washington. “I want to wait and see what the evidence is.” Shortly after pot became legal in Colorado, Clinton was not ready to leap on board with federal legalization, telling NPR affiliate KPCC, “I’m a big believer in acquiring evidence, and I think we should see what kind of results we get, both from medical marijuana and from recreational marijuana before we make any far-reaching conclusions. We need more studies. We need more evidence. And then we can proceed.”
Clinton took a position on federal decriminalization in her 2007 campaign, stating, “Nonviolent offenders should not be serving hard time in our prisons. They need to be diverted from our prison system.” Clinton cosponsored a 2007 bill that would have eliminated the crack/powder disparity. Ultimately, the legislation didn’t pass, but the effort shows that Clinton’s deeds reflect her words on the topic.
Pot-virgin? “I didn’t do it when I was young,” Clinton told Amanpour. “I’m not going to start now.”
Ted Cruz (R) has adopted some drug war and criminal justice positions that may surprise opponents. He’s a co-sponsor with Rand Paul of the Smarter Sentencing Act, and when introducing it in February, said, “We should not live in a world of Les Misérables, where a young man finds his entire future taken away by excessive mandatory minimums.” For a Princeton debating champion and honors graduate from Harvard Law School, Cruz has been surprisingly muddled on legalization. Last year he criticized President Obama for not enforcing federal marijuana laws in 2014, regardless of state laws. This year, in a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity in February, he said, “If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”
Pot-virgin? A spokesperson told U.K. newspaper the Daily Mail, “When he was a teenager, he foolishly experimented with marijuana. It was a mistake, and he’s never tried it since.”
Carly Fiorina (R) opposed Proposition 19, the California ballot measure that would have legalized marijuana, during her campaign to unseat Democrat Barbara Boxer. At CPAC in February, Fiorina reasserted her firm opposition to legalization for recreational use. She has expressed reservations about medical marijuana, saying it’s a “complex compound, we don’t really know what’s in it, we don’t really know how it interacts with other substances or other medicines.”
Last week, Fiorina defined her stance more explicitly, in an interview with The Des Moines Register editorial board: “I believe in states’ rights,” the former Hewlett Packard CEA said. “I would not as president of the United States enforce federal law in Colorado where Colorado voters have said they want to legalize marijuana.”
Fiorina also commented to The Register on the personal tragedy involving her daughter Lori, who passed away in 2009. “When you criminalize drug abuse, you’re actually not treating it,” Fiorina said. “We had a daughter who died of addictions, so this lands very close to home for me.”
Pot-virgin? No comment so far from the Fiorina camp.
Lindsey Graham (R) will be announcing his presidential run on 1 June. Graham is opposed to legalizing recreational use, but seems open to medical marijuana reforms, calling for common-sense. “When it comes to medicinal marijuana and [cannabidiol] oil, I think politicians should embrace what makes sense,” Graham said. “When it comes to issues like this, I don’t want to be academic in thought. This is about people. This is about families with sick children. Why should someone in my position get in the way of helping a child, if you can reasonably and logically do it?”
On states’ rights, Graham’s views are not clear. When Washington, D.C. legalized recreational cannabis, he deemed efforts to block the move “pretty far down my list of priorities”. However in comments in a letter in 2014, Graham is reported to have written, “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. 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.”
Pot-virgin? No comment on this question so far. Graham got snippy with Rand Paul recently, accusing him of just reaching out to “kids who smoke dope in their parents’ basement.”
Mike Huckabee (R), once a Southern Baptist minister, seems to see cannabis use as a much more bothersome social peril than the kind of incestuous child-molestation admitted to recently by GOP family values poster-boy Josh Duggar. “Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgusting things,” Huckabee stated after Duggar went public. By contrast, in a 2014 Facebook post discussing Colorado’s tax revenue from marijuana sales, the former Arkansas governor expressed concern about the social costs of such measures. “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’?” The post indicated he remains opposed to legalizing cannabis both recreational and medical cannabis, a position unchanged from remarks he made in 2007 that there was not enough scientific evidence about the effects of cannabis for medical use.
Pot-virgin? Probably. Huckabee does not drink alcohol and once wrote a column warning young people that dancing could undermine their Christian witnessing. In February 2015, in a Washington Watch radio interview, he told Tony Perkins that many of his likely presidential rivals have hinted that they have smoked marijuana in their youth and he could only plead guilty to living “a circumspect life.”
Martin O’Malley (D), formerly the Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor , announced on 30 May, 2015 that he would run “to rebuild the truth of the American dream for all Americans.” Considered a longshot challenger to Hillary Clinton, O’Malley has held a strong anti-drugs/anti-crime position throughout his political career, however his position on cannabis has evolved. While he remains opposed to legalizing recreational cannabis, as Maryland governor he loosed laws on medical marijuana and oversaw decriminalization for possession of small amounts of cannabis, moves hailed by some as pre-2016 window dressing. In an interview last year with WEAA 88.9 FM radio, O’Malley discussed the toll drug addiction had taken in his state and said marijuana could act as “a gateway to even more harmful behavior.” Pitching himself as a progressive, politician, his track record on gay marriage, income equality, gun control and the death penalty will have him vying with Bernie Sanders for support from the increasingly tea-partyish faction on the party’s left.
Pot-virgin? A question that has been left unanswered by O’Malley, who segues deftly into his views on proportionality when asked.
Rand Paul (R) has reached across the aisle on drug policy and criminal justice reform, and has supported decriminalization measures that reduce harsh prison sentences for minor cannabis possession.
In March 2015 he introduced (with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)) the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, which would remove medical cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and encourage more research into medical uses. On the action front, Paul is also a sponsor of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, which would re-establish hemp farming as a national industry and remove hemp from the CSA schedule.
In an interview on The Hugh Hewitt Show, Paul came out strongly in support of states’ rights to determine medical cannabis laws. “What I’m advocating for is allowing the federal government not to intervene with regard to medical marijuana,” Paul said, “and that’s the only decision I’ve made, is that I would allow states to have medical marijuana, and make the decisions on medical marijuana within the state lines.” In the same interview, when discussing broad marijuana legalization, he told Hewitt, “I really haven’t taken a position with regard to Colorado’s law. I will tell you, though, that my general inclination is to try to give states more freedom to make a lot of these decisions.”
Pot-virgin? Paul chose a nudge-wink answer to questions about personal use in a December 2014 interview with WHAS-TV, Louisville. “Let’s just say I wasn’t a choirboy when I was in college,” Paul said, adding “…kids make mistakes, and I can say that I made mistakes when I was a kid.”
Rick Perry (R) opposed legalization during his time as governor of Texas, however he startled some GOP horses by coming out in support of decriminalization measures at the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The Austin American-Statesman reported Perry as saying, “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.”
Perry is a strong believer in states’ rights and told Hugh Hewitt in a 2015 interview: “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.” In 2014, in a U.S. News and World Report Perry was reported as saying, “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. Then people will decide where they want to live.”
Pot-virgin? Perry says he has never tried cannabis.
Marco Rubio (R) has opposed broad cannabis legalization, telling Yahoo! News, last year, “I don’t think there’s a responsible way to recreationally use marijuana.” In a October 2014 Washington Times op-ed, he wrote: “…reform should not begin with careless weakening of drug laws that have done so much to help end the violence and mayhem that plagued American cities in prior decades.”
In the same year, Rubio supported a Florida bill legalizing medical use of CBD extracts for certain conditions, telling the Tampa Bay Times he was aware of reports that medical marijuana could help people and, “I’d like to learn more about that aspect of it, the science of it.”. However, he has said he does not support broader legalization of medical cannabis.
In a recent interview on The Hugh Hewitt Show, Rubio told the conservative talk show host, “I think we need to enforce our federal laws.” This position appears at odds with an earlier statement made by a spokesman that Rubio supports the rights of states to make their own decisions about laws within their borders.
Pot-virgin? Rubio dodges the question, holding press cynicism to blame for his evasiveness. “If I tell you that I haven’t, you won’t believe me,” he told reporters a National Journal event in Miami in February 2014.”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.'”
Bernie Sanders (D), is a longtime advocate of legalizing medical marijuana; in 2001 he co-sponsored the States’ Rights to Medical Marijuana Act. Sanders represents socially liberal Vermont, one of the states likely to legalize recreational cannabis within the next year. He has expressed some concerns about legalizing pot for recreational users, but supports decriminalization. The war on drugs, Sanders told Time in an interview late last year, has put too many non-violent offenders in jail, while not focusing sufficient resources on the epidemic of heroin use and other dangerous drugs.
Pot-virgin? Sanders, as reported by Time magazine, says that he smoked pot in his youth. Shocker.
Scott Walker (R), as Wisconsin governor, has legalized the limited use of low-THC marijuana extracts for treatment against severe seizures in his state. However, he appears to still be opposed to broader legalization. When Rep. Melissa Sargent introduced LRB 3671 in 2014, a bill to legalize marijuana in Wisconsin, along the lines of Colorado’s laws, Walker told Fox News: “It may be something that resonates in the future, but I just don’t see any movement for it right now.”
In April 2015, Sargent introduced a similar bill, and Walker still appears to feel there is no movement. In an e-mail statement to Wisconsin Radio Network, Walkers office wrote:
Governor Walker opposes legislation legalizing the use of marijuana. This is a gateway drug and Governor Walker has also heard from law enforcement professionals who have significant concerns about the impact of legalizing this drug.
Pot-virgin? The governor is not the curious type, apparently. Walker claims the “wildest” thing he ever did in college was drink beer.
AND THE REST OF THE FIELD
Democrat (Declared, Exploring, Possible): Morrison Bonpasse, Andy Caffrey, Willie Carter,Lincoln Chafee, Doug Shreffler, Michael Steinberg, Jim Webb, Robby Wells,
GOP (Declared, Exploring, Possible): Skip Andrews, Kerry Bowers, Dale Christensen, John Dummett, Jnr., Bob Ehrlich, Mark Everson, Chris Hill, John Kasich, Peter King, Michael Kinlaw, Dennis Michael Lynch, George Pataki, Michael Petyo, Brian Russell, Rick Santorum, Rick Snyder, Donald Trump.