Here’s Where Each Presidential Candidate Stands On Marijuana Legalization


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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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The marijuana legalization movement has won a string of successes in the last five years, and they could be about to put another feather in their cap — a pro-marijuana president.

Marijuana decriminalization is no longer a partisan issue, with reformers and advocates for the status quo on both sides of the aisle. As the conventions draw nearer, all the candidates’ stances on marijuana will come in for further scrutiny.

Sen. 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.

He is also willing to let the states chart their own path to marijuana reform. “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,” Sanders said speaking on Public Access TV Sept. 16, 2015.

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. Sanders has become more vocal about the way the war on drugs has been conducted, particularly the disproportionate impact on black Americans, and voiced his support for the legalization of marijuana in Nevada that will be put to a ballot in November.

At the tail end of 2015, Sanders proposed legislation that would remove marijuana from the federal drug schedules, allowing states to regulate cannabis similarly to how they are allowed to regulate alcohol. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a pro-legalization has graded all the candidates on their marijuana positions and awarded Sanders an A grade.

Hillary Clinton

Clinton’s position on marijuana has been unclear at times; her campaign also refused to accept a donation from the National Cannabis Industry. She has expressed limited support for medical marijuana.

“I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions and have anecdotal evidence that it works, there should be availability under appropriate circumstances,” she told a CNN town hall event in 2015.

Clinton’s approach has broadly been state-based, leaving the results of decriminalization and legalization to the state level before taking a definitive position.

She pleased marijuana advocates Sept. 14, 2015, saying she would not look to reverse decisions made by states and cities to legalize. The former secretary of state came out November 2015 in support of reclassifying marijuana from Schedule I to a Schedule II and said she is concerned about over-criminalization.

MPP awarded Clinton a B grade, which will confuse some observers of the marijuana debate given what MPP has said about Clinton in the past. “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,” said director of federal policies at the MPP Dan Riffle, speaking to The Hill.

Donald Trump

“We’re losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars,” Trump declared in 1990. His views have changed over the past quarter century, emphasizing the role of states in marijuana reform and backing away from total legalization.

“I think medical should happen — right? Don’t we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states,” Trump said told a Nevada in 2015. But the Republican front-runner disapproves of the Colorado model of legalizing marijuana for recreational use. MPP gave Trump a C+.

Gov. John Kasich

Gov. Kasich is staunchly opposed to marijuana use and legalization but has left the door open to medical marijuana. Kasich was one of the leading voices opposing Issue 3, which would have legalized marijuana in Ohio.

Kasich has not said he would take any action against states that have already legalized cannabis. “The people in those states have voted that way. The federal government has decided to kind of look the other way. I feel very strongly in my state, I’m going to oppose, and they’re going to put something on the ballot to legalize drugs. I’m totally opposed to it, because it is a scourge in this country,” Kasich told the Hugh Hewitt show in April 2015. MPP handed Kasich a C- grade.

Sen. Ted Cruz

[dcquiz] Sen. Cruz is against opposed to legalization but has held firm states have the right to decide for themselves how they tackle the issue. “If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative,” Cruz told FOX News’ Sean Hannity at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference.


He has, however, attacked President Obama in the past for failing to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have voted for legalization. MPP decided to give Cruz a C grade.

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