Here’s Where The Democratic Presidential Candidates Stand On Marijuana Legalization

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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As the candidates vie for the Democratic presidential nomination, here’s a round-up of where they stand on one of the hottest issues among progressives and liberals — marijuana legalization.

Hillary Clinton

Clinton has kept questions about legalization at arm’s length and has so far refused to take a strong position. Her campaign has refused a donation from the National Cannabis Industry.

She has expressed limited support for medical marijuana, telling a CNN town hall event “I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions and have anecdotal evidence that it works, there should be availability under appropriate circumstances.”

Clinton’s approach has broadly been a state-based one. She pleased marijuana advocates Sept. 14, saying she would not look to reverse decisions made by states and cities to legalize pot.

Speaking to The Hill, Dan Riffle, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project said “Hillary is probably the worst of the bunch on marijuana reform, and even she has said states should be ‘laboratories of democracy’ when it comes to legalization.”

Bernie Sanders

Self-declared socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders supports marijuana decriminalization and the use of medical marijuana. Sanders believes that possession of small amounts of cannabis should become a civil, not a criminal offense, subject merely to a fine.

Like Clinton, he is also willing to let the states chart their own path on marijuana reform. Speaking on Public Access TV Sept. 16, Sanders said, “what the federal government can do is say to the state of Colorado that if you choose to vote to legalize marijuana, we will allow you to do that without restrictions.”

He added that further examination of the “pluses and minuses – of which there are both” would be needed before moving more aggressively on the reform front.

Martin O’Malley

The former Maryland governor has a mixed record on marijuana legalization. As mayor of Baltimore, he was a fierce opponent of moving the law in a more libertarian direction.

Even as recently as last year, O’Malley said of marijuana legalization “I’m not much in favor of it,” adding, “because of seeing what drug addiction has done to the people of our state and the people of our city and I also know that this drug and its use and its abuse can be a gateway to even more harmful behavior.”

In 2012, he said he would veto legislation that would legalize medical marijuana. But O’Malley shifted his position in 2014 and signed legislation that decriminalized small amounts of marijuana for medical purposes.

O’Malley attended a “marijuana legalization listening session” in September to hear the views of those with deep connections to the cannabis industry and legalization movement in Colorado. He has not come out in favor of legalization and said it would be several years before the necessary data could be gathered to measure the success of Colorado’s reforms.

Jim Webb

Former U.S. senator from Virginia Jim Webb has not come out for pot legalization but has endorsed a wide-scale reform to America’s criminal justice system of which drug law reform would be a part.

“The time has come to stop locking up people for mere possession and use of marijuana,” Webb wrote in his book “A Time To Fight.” Webb is not opposed to states legalizing marijuana and has said the federal government should refrain from interfering in their affairs on this issue.

Lincoln Chafee

The former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee’s position on marijuana is not yet clear and he has said his views will “evolve during the campaign.”

In 2012, Chafee signed legislation decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. He has also petitioned the federal government to reclassify marijuana from schedule I to schedule II drug. Speaking to HuffPost Live Chafee said the prospect of extra revenue from legalizing and taxing marijuana was “enticing.”


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