The 2016 Presidential race is on, and the legalization of marijuana has become an unavoidable subject for every candidate. Just one decade ago, voters opposed legalization 2-to-1, according to the Pew Research Center, but now, most Americans believe marijuana should be legal: especially young people. Their most recent poll showed that 63% of Republican millennials and 77% of Democratic millennials support the legalization of marijuana. Also, a Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll reported that voters in three big swing states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, support legalization of medical marijuana by a wide margin of 5 to 1. The poll also showed a smaller margin in favor of recreational marijuana. Some have noted that, according to the numbers, marijuana itself is more popular in these states than any one of the Presidential candidates.
Now that the national perception of marijuana has changed so significantly, questions about marijuana and marijuana law must be addressed by the Presidential candidates. Some have even theorized that medical marijuana will be one of the most important issues in this race. Even though many of the candidates oppose outright legalization, they do support the use of medical marijuana, and the majority of candidates believe the Federal government should not interfere with a state’s right to enact marijuana laws.
Here’s a little information on each of the candidates featured in the major polls and their views on marijuana:
Bernie Sanders is a U.S. senator and former House member from Vermont. Sanders co-sponsored the States’ Rights to Medical Marijuana Act, a bill to reschedule cannabis and protect medical patients from prosecution. He has also co-sponsored a bill in the Senate that would legalize industrial hemp. He supports the medical use of marijuana, and is watching what Colorado and other states do before supporting legal recreational use, saying, “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.” However, he is very concerned with the failed War on Drugs. “What I can tell you is this: We have far far far too many people in jail for nonviolent crimes, and I think in many ways, the war against drugs has not been successful, and I think we’ve got to rethink that.” Also, in reference to his home state, he said, “In Vermont right now we’re dealing with a very serious problem with heroin use and use of prescription drugs. We lost over 50 people as a result of overdoses of prescription drugs and heroin. So I am concerned about the overuse of dangerous drugs.” Sanders said he has tried marijuana 30 or 40 years ago, but stated “it’s not my thing.”
Hillary Clinton is a former first lady, secretary of state, and U.S. senator. Clinton seems to be cautious at best when it comes to marijuana. In 2007, she said she did not support decriminalization, but said she would end raids against medical marijuana users in legal states. In a recent CNN Town Hall meeting she talked about marijuana. “I don’t think we’ve done enough research yet. Although I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions and have anecdotal evidence that it works, there should be availability under appropriate circumstances. But I do think we need more research, because we don’t know how it interacts with other drugs.” When asked about recreational use, Clinton said, “The states are the laboratories of democracy. We have at least two states experimenting with that right now. I want to wait and see what the evidence is.” Clinton maintains that she has “absolutely not” tried marijuana.
Martin O’Malley is the former governor of Maryland. He signed legislation in his state declaring medical marijuana legal, making Maryland the 21st state to allow it. On the same day, he also signed a bill decriminalizing marijuana possession. The bill means anyone in possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana is committing a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 for a first offense, up to $250 for a second offense, and up to $500 for subsequent offenses. If someone is under 21 years of age or on their third offense, they will be required to undergo a clinical assessment for substance abuse disorder and a drug education program. The measure will officially go into effect on October 1. After signing, O’Malley tweeted this statement: “The marijuana decriminalization bill will make it easier for law enforcement to focus on higher priority crimes & drive down violence in Maryland.” The law allows police officers to issue citations instead of arrests. According to the Baltimore Chronicle, O’Malley said he has never used marijuana.
Lincoln Chafee served as the Governor of Rhode Island. He was a Republican senator but is now running for the Democratic presidential nomination. As governor of Rhode Island, he signed a bill decriminalizing possession for smaller amounts of marijuana, and he has petitioned the Federal government to remove marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II. Chafee says that his position on marijuana “will evolve during the campaign.” Chafee has admitted that he used marijuana and cocaine during the 1970s.
Jeb Bush is Florida’s Governor. He has expressed confusion about the legalization of marijuana, especially interstate commerce and state’s rights to pass their own laws. When Florida voters were weighing the issue of medical marijuana in the state, Bush issued a written statement encouraging everyone to vote against the proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed for medical marijuana. He referred to his past marijuana use as “wrong” and “stupid.”
Donald Trump, also known as The Donald, is a well-known businessman, author, and real-estate mogul who has never held public office. He is known mostly for his lavish lifestyle, bold personality and TV Show The Apprentice. Trump told Sean Hannity during an interview that he supports medical marijuana, but not legalization for recreational use. Back in 1990, Trump said the War on Drugs had failed, that drugs should be legal, and resulting tax money should be used to fund programs aimed at prevention. He said, “You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.” Trump has stated in the past that he has never taken drugs of any kind, including alcohol or cigarettes. He also said he has never even had a cup of coffee.
Dr. Ben Carson is a retired Johns-Hopkins neurosurgeon from Michigan and has never held public office. He has said that marijuana legalization should be “off the table,” arguing long-term consequences and the gateway theory. In his autobiography, Carson wrote that because his religious upbringing, he “didn’t experiment with sex or drugs” but could still “identify with antiwar protesters and revolutionaries.”
Ted Cruz is a U.S. senator who supports the states’ rights to legalize marijuana. But he is critical of current policy saying, “The Obama administration’s approach to drug policy is to simply announce that across the country, it is gonna stop enforcing certain drug laws.” Regarding Cruz’s past marijuana use, his campaign has stated, “When he was a teenager, he foolishly experimented with marijuana. It was a mistake, and he’s never tried it since.”
Carly Fiorina is a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who has never held elected office. She supports the right of states to legalize marijuana without federal interference. 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.” She personally does not support the use of cannabis, though. In an interview with Slate magazine, Fiorina admitted that she would not even consider using medical cannabis when diagnosed with cancer. “I remember when I had cancer and my doctor said, ‘Do you have any interest in medicinal marijuana?’ I did not.”
Lindsey Graham is a U.S. senator and former U.S. House member from South Carolina who opposes legalization of marijuana. He voted against allowing veterans to access medical marijuana through the Veteran’s Administration but he has shown support for CBD-only bills. He will not admit or deny personal use of marijuana.
Mike Huckabee is a former Arkansas governor and Baptist pastor. He is an opponent of legalization even for medical use. While running for president in 2008, Huckabee said he would not interfere with the DEA arresting patients or providers in medical marijuana states. He has said, “I’m not one that’s in favor of simply creating a whole new avenue for people to engage in a drug that we have at least deemed until now to be illegal.” He claims that he has never smoked marijuana.
Rand Paul is a U.S. senator from Kentucky, who sponsored The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act of 2015. This bill would remove marijuana off the list of Schedule I drugs, allow the legal cannabis industry to have access to banks, end the restrictions on marijuana research, allow the V.A. to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans, and end penalties for sending high-CBD strains of marijuana across state lines. Paul’s stance seems clear: “There are a lot of young people who do this and then later on, they get married and they quit; I don’t want to put them in jail and ruin their lives. The last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use, and it would have ruined their lives. They got lucky, but a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don’t get lucky.” He will neither confirm nor deny using marijuana personally.
Rick Perry is a former Texas governor and lieutenant governor. He also supports the states’ rights to have medical marijuana laws even though he personally disagrees with them and does not support legalization. He said, “I’m a big believer in the 10th Amendment,” he said. “I don’t agree with those decisions that were made by that, 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.” Perry says he has never used marijuana.
Marco Rubio is a U.S. senator and former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. Rubio has been quoted as saying, “Marijuana is illegal under federal law. That should be enforced.” He says he does not support legalization or decriminalization. Rubio has been criticized by some for refusing to answer questions about his personal marijuana use. In response to a question posed at a Miami, FL forum, he said, “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, ‘cause look how he made it. He did all right, so I guess I can do it, too.’ And the bottom line is that it is a substance that alters your mind.”
Rick Santorum is a former U.S. senator and congressman from Pennsylvania. He seems confused on the issue of states’ rights and federal interference, based on moral values. He said, “I would make the argument that states have the rights, but they don’t have the right to do anything they want to do…states under the Constitution probably have the right to do it, just like they have the right to do medical marijuana laws, but 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.” Santorum has stated, “I smoked pot when I was in college. Even during that time, I knew that what I was doing was wrong.”