Legalization of marijuana is expected to be a big issue during the 2016 elections. Many states will have ballot items regarding the legalization of marijuana and for some voters, it’s the only issue they care about. Some candidates are very clear as to their position, while others are hard to pin down and deliver confusing and conflicting messages.
Many of the candidates don’t post their positions on the issue on their political website, so their stance is determined from their quotes. Here then is a primer for the leading 2016 presidential candidates and their position on the legalization of marijuana.
In 1990, Donald Trump argued that in order to win the War On Drugs, you had to take away the profits from the drug czars. He favored legalizing drugs and using the tax revenue to fund drug education programs. Fast forward to 2015 at the Conservative Political Action Conference where Trump reversed course and said he was 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, Trump contradicts himself when asked about states’ rights and marijuana laws. Trump said, “If they vote for it, they vote for it.”
Position: For Medical, Against Recreational
Ben Carson is a pediatric neurosurgeon that recognizes medical marijuana as being useful in some cases. However, the good doctor then steers clear of the facts and continues to call marijuana a gateway drug, even though prescription pain killers are the number one gateway to hard drugs. He is firmly against recreational marijuana.
Position: Against Legalization, Favors States Rights
Fiorina lost her step-daughter to drug addiction, which is just terrible and so her stance is deeply personal. She is against the legalization of marijuana, but supports a state’s decision to choose on its own. Fiorina told reporters after her speech at the Western Conservative Summit, “I would also very quickly add that I think the legalization of marijuana is a very bad idea. I think it’s misleading to young people in particular when we tell them smoking pot is like drinking a beer. It is not.” She has also said when she was battling breast cancer her doctor advised her against using cannabis so it’s safe to assume that she’s against medical marijuana.
There was a fierce battle over legalizing medical marijuana in Florida and it was mostly funded by the big Republican donor Shel Adelson. Jeb Bush (who admitted he smoked pot in college) sided with the opponents of the initiative. He issued a statement that suggested legalization could harm the state’s reputation as a family friendly place. “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,” Bush 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,” he added. “I strongly urge Floridians to vote against Amendment 2 this November,” he said.
Marco Rubio has said he would enforce federal law when it came to marijuana. However, he says he is in favor of allowing states to make their own decisions regarding marijuana. Mr. Rubio has also said before that his own family was hurt by the drug business when his brother-in-law was arrested and sent to prison. In a Huffington Post article he said there is “no responsible way to recreationally use” marijuana and that he thinks legalization would be “bad for the country.” While he has occasionally made comments favoring states rights, he has made more against legalization.
Chris Christie made his position on marijuana clear during the last presidential debate as he connected it to his pro-life stance. He went on to call marijuana a gateway drug, which most studies have proven not to be the case. He also insisted that New Jersey has an emphasis on rehabilitation, not incarceration. Christie also said he supported medical marijuana laws in New Jersey, but it is known for being one of the strictest and most difficult programs in the country. Christie was forced to implement the law, which was signed on his predecessor’s last day in office. Plus, he can’t support medical marijuana and then turn around and state that he’d enforce the federal laws against marijuana which would essentially make medical marijuana criminal.
Position: For Legalization.
Presidential candidate Rand Paul’s position on marijuana is well known and for many that is enough of a reason to vote for him. Mr. Paul is a libertarian and believes strongly in states’ rights. He has never wavered from the position that the war on drugs was a war that put mostly minorities in jail and prison. Paul has said, “I think to put somebody in jail for 10 years for possession of marijuana or sale of marijuana is ridiculous.”
Mike Huckabee does not agree with legalizing medical marijuana and consequently does not approve of legalizing recreational marijuana. Huckabee thinks patients that want to use medical marijuana should use standard medications. He doesn’t believe that there is any medicinal benefit from marijuana. He has said if people vote to change laws, then he would abide by those laws, but he is clearly not in favor.
Position: Favors States Rights
Ted Cruz co-sponsored The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015 to give judges more flexibility in sentencing, so he believes some people are unfairly incarcerated. He has now “evolved” his position on cannabis and supports states rights to choose whether to legalize or not. At the conservative conference earlier this year, he said he would not crack down on legal marijuana if he were president.
Graham’s position on marijuana is a little cloudy. He voted against veterans having access to medical marijuana and voted in favor of border patrols to battle drugs. However, he has also said he isn’t against legalizing medical marijuana, but then he voted against medical marijuana in Washington D.C. He has said if medical marijuana would help a patient, he wouldn’t be against it. So, his statements tend to be contradictory and hard to follow.
Position: Against Legalization
Jindal has said, “I’m not for the legalization. The full legalization of marijuana has been done in Colorado. But certainly, I think that it makes sense. We could use our resources more effectively. We passed some pretty good laws last year. There’s more work that we can do there. I do think when it comes to medical marijuana, I’ve said that I’m open if it’s tightly regulated, for legitimate medical purposes. We don’t need to be locking up people who aren’t the dealers, who aren’t committing other crimes.” So, he’s not in favor, which makes conservatives happy, but he’ll stand aside for medical marijuana advocates.
Kasich is firmly against legalizing medical marijuana, but he is in favor of states’ rights. On the one hand, Kasich seems like the most moderate of the Republicans when it comes to marijuana. He also believes in rehabilitation of drug offenders as opposed to prison sentences. He also supports legalized marijuana businesses to be able to have regular banking and file tax returns. Yet, he clearly is also against legalizing medical marijuana. If he were voted in as president, it’s hard to tell which direction he would go in.
Santorum smoked pot in college, but knew it was wrong, he says we all make mistakes. He said, “For example, I smoked pot when I was in college. Does that mean that I can’t talk about drug use? Does that mean that I can’t talk about how that’s a bad thing? Of course not. You learn from those experiences.” Lately he has said that federal laws should be enforced and that Colorado was violating federal law.
George Pataki is a big supporter of the 10th amendment and feels it is a state’s right to choose. He thinks federal law should be changed in order to support those states. However, he opposed the efforts in the state of New York to legalize medical marijuana and said “I am not in favor of legalized marijuana.” So, which is it? He seems to favor legalization if a state votes it in, but then again he is against it. He has admitted to smoking pot and inhaling.
Gilmore is decidedly against legalization. He strongly favors stricter drug laws and has said that illicit drugs are not an acceptable part of our society. He believes in more federal funding for all aspects of the War on Drugs. At least, Gilmore leaves no doubt about his position on marijuana.
Position: For Legalization
Sanders co-sponsored the States’ Rights to Medical Marijuana Act. The act reclassifies marijuana as a schedule 2 drug from schedule 1. The act approves of marijuana with a doctor’s prescription or recommendation. He also believes that industrial hemp should not be considered as marijuana. Sanders also co-sponsored the Industrial Hemp Farming Act. There is no doubt where Bernie stands.
Position: Favors Medical Marijuana
Hillary Clinton, whose husband former President Bill Clinton famously said he smoked marijuana but didn’t inhale, is in favor of medical marijuana in extreme cases. She says she wants to “wait and see” how states are doing with recreational before taking a position as to whether states have the right to decide about recreational use. That’s a pretty safe way of not taking a real position.
Sep 25, 2015 @ 07:00 AM
Debra Borchardt , Contributor (Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own).