Welcome to our first of what will be recurring posts designed to inform our readers about every viable presidential candidate’s position on marijuana. We urge you to comment on these posts and on the candidates’ positions so we can have some good debate.
Over the past few weeks four major politicians have announced their candidacy for president: Hillary Clinton (D), Ted Cruz (R), Rand Paul (R) and Marco Rubio (R). We anticipate that most folks reading this will assume that Clinton is a staunch advocate for legalization and that each of the GOP candidates are strongly against marijuana in any form. Interestingly, that isn’t the case.
Hillary Clinton is the early favorite for the 2016 Democratic nomination and the only Democrat to formally announce her candidacy so far. Unfortunately, she is not the best advocate for cannabis legalization. Alan St. Pierre, the director of NORML, has called her “politically pragmatic,” indicating that she will likely run on whatever platform garners the most votes. He continued that “if she has to find herself running against a conservative Republican in 2016 . . . she is going to tack more to the middle. And the middle on this issue tends to tack more to the conservative side.”
Clinton claims she has never used marijuana, stating, “I didn’t [use marijuana] when I was young, I’m not going to start now.” She is, however, in favor of conducting more research, and has taken that position (or non-position) since her 2008 candidacy — although at that time she was against decriminalization. To that end, Clinton has stated recently:
- “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.”
- “On recreational, you know, 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.”
- “I have to say I think we need to be very clear about the benefits of marijuana use for medicinal purposes. 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. But I do think we need more research because we don’t know how it interacts with other drugs.”
Though Clinton has indicated that she has not used marijuana and is strongly in favor of more research, the last time she committed to a position (albeit in 2008), she was against decriminalization. If Alan St. Pierre is right (and we think that he is), we likely will not know her position until after the primaries. But with her being a pragmatist and with the majority of our country supporting legalization for recreational use and an overwhelming majority supporting medical use, we expect Ms. Clinton will eventually embrace the people’s position.
Ted Cruz is a very conservative Republican serving his first term in the Senate. During his short tenure in national politics, Cruz has become somewhat of the poster-child of the tea party movement. Nonetheless, Cruz appears to be taking a federalist position on the issue of marijuana, favoring leaving it up to the individual states to decide.
In January 2014, Cruz criticized President Obama for not enforcing federal drug enforcement laws. However Cruz did not at that time indicate what he would do if he were president.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), in late February, Cruz came out in support of a states-rights approach. Though Cruz stated that he personally does believe marijuana should be legalized he sees Colorado’s marijuana legalization as “a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the laboratories of democracy.’” He continued, “If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”
Cruz’s position seems to coincide with Republicans’ preferences on the issue. After the 2012 elections, a CBS poll showed that though only 27% of Republicans favored legalization, 65% believe that individual states should be permitted to decide the issue. The numbers have shifted slightly since that time and now about a third of all Republicans think marijuana should be legal, with a majority of young republicans (born between 1981 and 1996) supporting legalization (63%).
Though nationwide legalization would obviously be great for the cause, embracing a states-rights approach may be a good stepping-stone in 2016. As such, Cruz’s position is not a bad place to start.
Since 2012, Rand Paul has remained consistent in his belief that states should be free to legalize marijuana as they see fit. “States should be allowed to make a lot of these decisions,” Paul says. “I want things to be decided more at a local basis, with more compassion. I think it would make us as Republicans different.” He also has indicated a preference for reduced penalties for violating marijuana laws, stating “I think, for example, we should tell young people, ‘I’m not in favor of you smoking pot, but if you get caught smoking pot, I don’t want to put you in jail for 20 years.'”
“The main thing I’ve said is not to legalize [marijuana] but not to incarcerate people for extended periods of time….There are people in jail for 50 years for nonviolent crimes. And that’s a huge mistake. Our prisons are full of nonviolent criminals. I don’t want to encourage people to do it. Marijuana takes away your incentive to work. I don’t want to promote that but I also don’t want to put people in jail who make the mistake. 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.”
Though Paul does not favor legalizing adult use marijuana, he does support legalizing medical marijuana. In fact, on March 10, 2015, Rand Paul along with Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, proposed legislation to legalize marijuana on the federal level for states with medical marijuana programs. The bill would remove marijuana from Schedule I and move it to Schedule II. We here at Canna Law Blog strongly support this legislation and applaud Paul (and Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller) for their sponsorship of the bill.
Marco Rubio is extremely conservative. In 2010 he was referred to as the “crown prince” of the tea party movement. Like Paul and Cruz, he too is a new Senator, having served since 2011. Rubio’s position on marijuana is the most conservative of all the candidates profiled today. He has been very clear that he does not support legalization at all. Further, Rubio will not publicly state whether he has ever used marijuana either, consistently dodging the question: “Here’s the problem with that question in American politics: If you say that you did and suddenly there are people out there saying ‘Well, it’s not a big deal. Look at all these successful people who did it,'” Rubio said. “I don’t want my kids to smoke marijuana. And I don’t want other people’s kids to smoke marijuana. I don’t believe there’s a responsible way to recreationally use marijuana. On the other side of it, if you tell people you didn’t they won’t believe you. The bottom line is, I don’t think people should smoke marijuana.”
Rubio believes federal law should be enforced in states that have legalized marijuana. “Marijuana is illegal under federal law. That should be enforced. I believe that adding yet another mind-altering substance to something that’s legal is not good for the country.
Rubio has left the door open a bit on medical marijuana: “You hear compelling stories of people who say the use of medical marijuana provides relief for the thing they are suffering, so I’d like to learn more about that aspect of it, the science of it.” Since learning more about the science of it, Rubio has come out in very limited support of medical marijuana. Rubio would allow for strictly non-euphoric medical marijuana such as “Charlotte’s Web.” Specifically, Rubio has stated that “[i]f there are medicinal uses of marijuana that don’t have the elements that are mind-altering or create the high but do alleviate whatever condition it may be they are trying to alleviate, that is something [he] would be open to.”
So there you have it, folks. We have a democrat who has not really committed either way to recreational, and only wants medical for extreme conditions, and three very conservative republicans, only one of whom supports federal bans. It will be interesting to see where the next candidates to announce stand on the issues.