Here we are almost three months away from Election Day. How do the candidates view the prospect of federal cannabis legalization? This issue has not been covered much in the mainstream media, but there are some sources that give us a sense of where the candidates stand.
Keep in mind that federal legalization is a complex initiative and even if the executive branch pushed for legalization, it would most likely be challenged in Congress after the decree is issued. Here are the four main candidates' opinions on the question of legalization.
Hilary Clinton (D):
Clinton’s stance is that of pragmatism. She believes that there should be full federal access to medicinal marijuana and that more research and funding opportunities into the medicinal benefits of marijuana is needed. This would require a change in the scheduling of marijuana, down from schedule 1 to schedule 2 or 3. This would in turn open up research opportunities and get rid of red tape associated with marijuana research. To research marijuana in the United States, approval from both the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration is required. This approval can often take many years.
Clinton also supports allowing states to implement their own marijuana policies without fear of retribution from the federal government. (This is the same stance President Obama has now.) In October 2015 during a democratic primary debate, she was asked if she had a position on state legalization laws in states like Colorado and Washington. She said she had no definitive opinion on the matter, but that she did have concerns about the rising U.S incarceration rates around drug possession.
She made a definitive statement on the topic in March of 2016, on Jimmy Kimmel Live; “I think what the states are doing right now needs to be supported, and I absolutely support all the states that are moving toward medical marijuana, eventually moving toward legalizing it for recreational use.” This state model contradicts her former opponent Bernie Sanders' opinion on federal legalization and was a big difference highlighted during the primaries.
Clinton is faced with a party that is split on the idea of federal legalization. The more progressive side of the party supports legalization while the more conservative “blue dog” democrats of the south are still wary of it. Clinton has taken a middle ground position in support of marijuana, moving slowly and cautiously to full federal legalization.
Donald Trump (R):
Trump’s position on marijuana has changed and throughout the years. Like Clinton, he is faced with the problem of having a split party on the issue of legalization. Whereas the libertarian side of the Republican Party advocates the decriminalization of all drugs (an opinion Trump held in the '90s), the more socially conservative part of the party is vehemently opposed to legalization of any kind. He has been quoted as saying “In some ways (legalization) is good” but it is uncertain if he will hold to this position once the presidential debates begin.
In terms of medicinal marijuana, Trump does support legal access -- but says that states should have the final say without interference from the federal government. On an interview with Bill O’Reilly, Trump rebuked O’Reilly when O'Reilly said medical marijuana was "a ruse.” Trump responded that he knew people that had serious medical problems and that having access to marijuana helped them cope with their condition.
Trump has been inconsistent on many policy positions. Out of the four candidates, he is the most difficult to find definitive statements from on marijuana legalization. He has said he is for medical marijuana “100%,” but it seems as if federal legalization is not at the top of his executive priorities if elected president.
Gary Johnson (L):
Since 1999, when he was governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson has advocated the legalization of marijuana. He has said he would allow states to regulate marijuana in a way that was best for their constituency, but would guarantee decriminalization at the federal level. For instance, if a state or local municipality voted against full-scale legalization, they could stay decriminalized and not sell within the town, city, or state.
“Over time, politicians have criminalized far too many aspects of people’s personal lives,” Johnson has said. ”Why do we tell adults what they can put in their bodies?” As a former patient himself, Johnson has used marijuana as an alternative to painkillers for a broken back, specifically a fracture to his T12 vertebrae.
He has often compared the current prohibition of marijuana to the prohibition of alcohol back in the 1920’s. He believes prohibition was repealed because it made matters worse by creating a black market that gangsters like Al Capone took advantage of. “Today, no one is trying to sell our kids bathtub gin in the schoolyard and microbreweries aren’t protecting their turf with machine guns. It’s time to apply that thinking to marijuana.” He has also added that drug use is up in the U.S -- despite 30 billion dollars being spent annually on the war on drugs.
Before running for president, he served as CEO of a medicinal marijuana business based in Nevada. (He has not used marijuana since his injury in 2008, and was not governor at the time of the injury.) He has also said he would abstain from using marijuana if elected president.
Jill Stein (G):
Dr. Stein has come out in full support of legalizing and regulating marijuana for medical and adult use nationwide. She has pledged that one of her first actions would be to “order to DEA and the Justice Department to cease and desist all attempts to harass or prosecute medical marijuana clinics or other legitimate marijuana-related businesses that are operating under current state laws.” She believes that the real danger of marijuana is the violence of the underground drug economy created by prohibition --leading one to believe she may advocate the decriminalization of all drugs (but this is not confirmed).
On the issue of over-incarceration for non-violent crimes, Stein has said that there is a systemic problem of “wasting money and ruining lives by prosecuting victimless crimes.” Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simple possession according to the American Civil Liberties Union, a statistic Stein has quoted many times in interviews and public forums. She also supports creating new jobs in growing hemp for food and fiber.
Another long shot for the presidency, Stein believes that with full federal legalization, the U.S could transform the criminal drug system into one based on public health and rehabilitation. During an interview in 2012, she was quoted saying that “we would actually use science to determine which drugs are dangerous and which ones are not…If you don’t treat the problem it only aggravates it and compounds it with issues of public safety and criminal violence associated with the illegal drug culture.” This quote sums up Dr. Stein’s position, that marijuana should be removed from schedule 1 and that people struggling with addiction should be referred to treatment rather than incarceration.
Overall, the views of the candidates differ in degree, but one view around marijuana remains constant -- medicinal marijuana is a legitimate form of medicine and further research is needed without interference from federal agencies.
Additional sources for the candidate’s positions can be found at the links below:
Written by Zach Johnson