Presidential Candidates Chart New Course On Cannabis Policy

Though you’d be tempted to think otherwise, the race for president is not quite as depressing as it seems.

Apr 6, 2016

The 2016 presidential primary campaign season has seen no small amount of groundbreaking –and sometimes shocking– pronouncements on the part of the remaining candidates. One of the areas in which the candidates from both parties have expressed the most surprising views is that of cannabis legalization: For what is seemingly the first time in the country’s history, every major candidate from both parties has expressed some degree of support for cannabis legalization.

However, as is usually the case when discussing policy, the devil is in the detail. The five remaining presidential candidates remain divided on federal and state approaches to the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis.

The Democrats

Fmr. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (N.Y.)

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The former Secretary of State and current Democratic frontrunner has sought to clarify her position in recent months on cannabis legalization.  In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel on the ABC talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live, Clinton expressed support for both the legalization of medical cannabis and for the product’s reclassification as a Schedule I controlled substance. However, the former First Lady said that more research should be conducted before cannabis is fully legalized for recreational use:

“What the states are doing right now needs to be supported,” Clinton said in her March appearance on the show. “And I absolutely support all the states that are moving toward medical marijuana, moving toward absolutely legalizing it for recreational use. But I want to see what the states learn from that experience, because there are still a lot of questions we still have to answer on the federal level.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.)

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Sen. Sanders has been an outspoken advocate for the liberalization of the country’s cannabis laws. Last November, Sanders filed a Senate bill titled the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015” that sought to remove cannabis entirely from the list of federally controlled substances.

Sanders has subsequently said that he believes the decision of whether to legalize cannabis should be left to the states:

“It’s certainly not a killer drug like heroin,” Sanders said in an interview with WWJ Newsradio 950 in Detriot, saying that cannabis should not be a federal issue. “The decision to whether to legalize marijuana is a state issue. But I do not believe possession of marijuana should be a federal crime.”

Sanders’ home state of Vermont is in the throes of potentially legalizing recreational cannabis.

The Republicans

Donald Trump (N.Y.)

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The real estate mogul and current delegate leader in the Republican primary race has expressed mixed feelings on cannabis, saying on several occasions that he supports medical cannabis but offering few specifics. In a recent interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, The Donald said that he was “basically for” medical cannabis legalization but said he had been receiving “some very negative reports” out of Colorado on the issue.

Trump had shown ambivalence in a February interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, in which he expressed support for medical cannabis but conveyed worries about cannabis’ health effects.

“I know people that have serious problems,” he said, “and… it really, really does help them.”

Gov. John Kasich (Ohio)

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The remaining ‘establishment’ candidate for the Republican nomination said in a recent radio interview that he is “definitely opposed to legalizing marijuana for recreational use.” However, Kasich has left the door open to legalizing medical cannabis:

“If the experts come back and say, ‘We need this for people who have seizures,’ I’m for that,” Kasich told “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert in a November interview.

The issue of legalized medical cannabis is likely to appear on the ballot this November in Kasich’s home state of Ohio. A poll conducted in the fall found a staggering 90 percent of the state’s voters supportive of legalized medical cannabis, with 53 percent supporting legalized recreational cannabis.

Interesting side note: Longtime Republican operative Roger Stone claimed in October to have fired Kasich from Ronald Regan’s 1976 campaign staff for selling cannabis to other operatives. Kasich dismissed the charge, calling Stone “nuts.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas)

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Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has been quiet on the issue of cannabis legalization of late, though last year he gave several interviews in which he expressed support for deference to states’ decisions on the issue:

“I don’t support drug legalization, but I do support the Constitution,” Cruz told the Texas Tribune soon after his presidential campaign kickoff. “I think individual states can choose to adopt it. So if Texas had it on the ballot, I’d vote against it, but I respect the authority of states to follow different policies.”

Soon after, in an interview on the “Hugh Hewitt Show,” Cruz sounded a similar note:

“[W]hen it comes to a question of legalizing marijuana, I don’t support legalizing marijuana. If it were on the ballot in the state of Texas, I would vote no. But I also believe that’s a legitimate question for the states to make a determination. And the citizens of Colorado and Washington State have come to a different conclusion.

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Apr 6, 2016