Presidential Candidates and the Debate on Marijuana

With election season upon us, there are many important issues that Americans are focused on when supporting a candidate. For us at Myster, following the legislation surrounding ultimately legalizing marijuana is a priority. Over the next few weeks, we are going to take a closer look at the presidential candidates and their stance on marijuana. Cannabis reform has been quickly spreading across the nation and this debate among the parties is far from over. Stay tuned for each part to this series.


Jeb Bush – Republican

The former Florida governor does not favor legalization, or even medical cannabis, but he does support letting states set their own marijuana laws without much federal interference.

Speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Bush said legalizing marijuana is “a bad idea but states ought to have that right to do it.”

Previously, he told the Miami Herald that, “I think that states ought to have a right to decide these things. I think the federal government’s role in our lives is way too-overreaching. But having said that, if you’re in Colorado and you can purchase marijuana openly, should people in Wyoming not be concerned about that? And I think there, maybe, the federal law needs to be looked at — interstate commerce.”

At a debate hosted by CNN, he said, “What goes on in Colorado, as far as I’m concerned, that should be a state decision.”

Bush also spoke out against a medical marijuana amendment that was on his state’s ballot. “Florida leaders and citizens have worked for years to make the Sunshine State a world-class location to start or run a business, a family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire,” he said. “Allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts. I believe it is the right of states to decide this issue, and I strongly urge Floridians to vote against Amendment 2 this November.”

As governor, Bush opposed a proposed ballot initiative that would have given first- and second-time drug offenders access to treatment instead of incarceration, even as his daughter Noelle underwent highly-publicized legal consequences stemming from a series of drug possession arrests. Calling the measure “misleading,” he said it would “destroy” Florida’s drug court program. “To suggest there should be no penalties for continued drug use is to stick our heads in the sand,” he said.

“The neurological damage done by this high potent marijuana today is at best untested. At worst, will create huge disruptions in communities,” Bush said at a campaign stop in Iowa, adding that he thought legalization in Colorado has led to “increases in crime and lower productivity.”

On his campaign website, Bush touts his record of cracking down on drugs as governor, including how he pushed for higher penalties and “brought together the state’s drug warriors” to better coordinate enforcement efforts.

Bush himself has admitted to frequent marijuana use during his younger days, and is reported to even have sold hash on occasion. “I drank alcohol and I smoked marijuana” in high school, he said. “It was pretty common.” At the CNN debate, he said, “So, 40 years ago, I smoked marijuana, and I admit it. I’m sure that other people might have done it and may not want to say it in front of 25 million people. My mom’s not happy that I just did.”


Ben Carson – Republican

The retired neurosurgeon, who has never held elected office, says that marijuana has some medical value but opposes full legalization and would continue to enforce federal law even in states that have ended prohibition.

Carson told ABC News that legalization “should be completely off the table.” However, he added, “I have no problem with medical marijuana usage, and there are ways that it can be done that are very appropriate.”

Similarly, he told Fox News that, “I think medical use of marijuana in compassionate cases certainly has been proven to be useful.” But he went on to say that “marijuana is what’s known as a gateway drug. It tends to be a starter drug for people who move onto heavier duty drugs -– sometimes legal, sometimes illegal –- and I don’t think this is something that we really want for our society. You know, we’re gradually just removing all the barriers to hedonistic activity.”

Carson has suggested that as a doctor, he would consider advising patients to try medical cannabis. “Would I recommend medical marijuana? Absolutely,” he said at a campaign rally in Ohio. “I have no problem with medical marijuana. But that is very different from legalizing it for recreational use. I would not do that under any circumstances.”

Carson has also argued that marijuana use has long-term consequences. “We have known for a long time that people who engage in such activities can have flashbacks months and years after usage, that a lot of their abilities can be impaired at the time of use,” he told NewsMax TV. “So why would we throw into the mix something else that can impair people? We have enough impaired people already.”

When asked about the growing public support for legalization, Carson said it indicates that Americans are “much more interested in pleasure than we are in taking care of the severe business that faces us, and let’s look for ways to escape those things rather than actually face them… We’ve reached a point where, if it feels good, do it.”

Carson doesn’t think the federal government should let states implement legalization without interference. “Regular exposure to marijuana in the developing brain has been demonstrated definitively to result in decreased IQ. And the last thing we need is a bunch of people running around with decreased IQ,” he said at a press conference in Denver. “There are ways that you can create pills and ointments and things like that that are used for medicinal purposes while still enforcing federal law… [Yes I would enforce the federal drug laws in states such as Colorado] providing the use, the appropriate use of medical marijuana.”

On a personal note, Carson wrote in his book that, “Because of my love of God and my religious upbringing, I didn’t become involved in sex or drugs.”


Chris Christie – Republican

While the New Jersey governor and former U.S. attorney did allow his state’s medical marijuana program to move forward in the face of federal threats, he has been widely criticized for slow-walking its implementation. And though Christie often calls the war on drugs a failure, he staunchly opposes legalization and says he would enforce federal laws in states that have ended prohibition.

He even went so far as to specifically criticize voters in Colorado — a key presidential swing state — for opting to enact legalization. “For the people who are enamored with the idea of the income, the tax revenue from this, go to Colorado and see if you want to live there,” he said on New Jersey 101.5’s “Ask the Governor” program. “See if you want to live in a major city in Colorado where there’s head shops popping up on every corner and people flying into your airport just to come and get high. To me, it’s just not the quality of life we want to have here in the state of New Jersey and there’s no tax revenue that’s worth that.”

When asked how he would treat states that legalize marijuana if elected president, he responded, “Probably not well.”

Christie said he will “crack down and not permit” state legalization in an appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “Marijuana is a gateway drug. We have an enormous addiction problem in this country. And we need to send very clear leadership from the White House on down through the federal law enforcement. Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law. And the states should not be permitted to sell it and profit from it.”

During a town hall in New Hampshire, he said, “If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it until January 2017 because I will enforce the federal laws against marijuana as president of the United States.”

At a debate sponsored by CNN, Christie said using marijuana isn’t a victimless crime. “Look at the decrease in productivity, look at the way people get used and move on to other drugs when they use marijuana as a gateway drug, it is not them that are the only victims. Their families are the victims too, their children are the victims too, and their employers are the victims also,” he said. “That’s why I’ll enforce the federal law, while you can still put an emphasis on rehabilitation, which we’ve done in New Jersey.”

Christie is not impressed by the tax revenues that legalization can generate. “To me, that’s blood money,” he said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a drug treatment center. “I’m not going to put the lives of children and citizens at risk to put a little more money into the state coffers, at least not on my watch.”

He also isn’t moved by the fact that marijuana reform is politically popular. “I don’t care quite frankly that people think it’s inevitable,” Christie said on the “Ask the Governor” program. “It’s not inevitable here. I’m not going to permit it. Never, as long as I’m governor. You want to elect somebody else who’s willing to legalize marijuana and expose our children to that gateway drug and the effects it has on their brain? You’ll have to live with yourself if you do that. But it’s not going to be this governor who does it.”

In another appearance on “Ask the Governor,” Christie claimed there is very little real demand for medical marijuana and that New Jersey’s program, which was signed into law by the previous governor, is “a front for legalization.”

But he has acknowledge that marijuana does have medical uses for some people, and has indicated he doesn’t think the federal government should interfere with state medical cannabis laws. “This is a decision on medical marijuana that I think needs to be made state-by-state,” Christie said during an appearance in Iowa. “I don’t want it used recreationally, but for medical purposes, it’s helpful for certain adult illness and certain pediatric illness. So where it’s helpful and when a doctor prescribes it, I have no problem with it.”

Even though Christie isn’t a fan of broad marijuana reform, he has criticized the failure of the overall drug war on a number of occasions. “We will end the failed war on drugs that believes that incarceration is the cure of every ill caused by drug abuse,” he said during his second inaugural address as governor. “We will make drug treatment available to as many of our non-violent offenders as we can and we will partner with our citizens to create a society that understands that every life has value and no life is disposable.”

When asked if he’s ever tried marijuana himself, he tweeted, “The answer is no.”


Hillary Clinton – Democrat

The former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady has said marijuana has medical value and that she wants to see states move forward with their own laws. “I think we need to be very clear about the benefits of marijuana use for medicinal purposes,” she told CNN. “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.”

“On recreational, you know, states are the laboratories of democracy. We have at least two states that are experimenting with that right now,” she said. “I want to wait and see what the evidence is.”

During an appearance at Luther College in Iowa, Clinton was asked about the issue by a student and responded, “I would support states and localities that are experimenting with this.”

Similarly, in an interview with KUSA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Denver, she said “I really believe it’s important that states like Colorado lead the way, so that we can learn what works and what doesn’t work. And I would certainly not want the federal government to interfere with the legal decision made by the people of Colorado, and enforced by your elected officials, as to how you should be conducting this business that you have approved. So, no, I want to give you the space and I want other states to learn from you, what works and what doesn’t work.”

On the other hand, Clinton told KPCC radio that, “I think the feds should be attuned to the way marijuana is still used as a gateway drug and how the drug cartels from Latin America use marijuana to get footholds in states, so there can’t be a total absence of law enforcement, but what I want to see, and I think we should be much more focused on this, is really doing good research so we know what it is we’re approving.”

To that end, Clinton has criticized federal barriers to research on the drug. There is “a lot of anecdotal evidence” that marijuana has medical benefits, she said, “but we have no [scientific]evidence because researchers can’t experiment with marijuana because it’s a controlled substance. We have people trying to help kids with cancer, we have people who deserve to have [access to medical cannabis]but we don’t know what interaction with other drugs, what right dosage are because can’t conduct research. If we’re going to pass medical marijuana, we have to allow research and try to get real science.”

During her last presidential campaign, in 2007, she said, “I don’t think we should decriminalize it.”

But in the first Democratic presidential debate of this cycle, she said, “I agree completely with the idea that we have got to stop imprisoning people who use marijuana,” adding that, “I do support the use of medical marijuana.”

In 2011, as secretary of state, Clinton responded to a question about whether legalization would reduce drug cartel violence by saying, “It is not likely to work. There is just too much money in it, and I don’t think that you can legalize small amounts for possession, but those who are making so much money selling, they have to be stopped. They can’t be given an even easier road to take, because they will then find it in their interest to addict even more young people. Mexico didn’t have much of a drug problem before the last 10 years, and you want to keep it that way. So you don’t want to give any excuse to the drug traffickers to be able legally to addict young people.”

On a personal level, she said she’s “absolutely not” tried marijuana. “I didn’t do it when I was young. I’m not going to start now.”


Ted Cruz – Republican

The U.S. senator from Texas isn’t a fan of legalization but has said that when it comes to states that want to end prohibition, “that’s their right.”

However, he has also slammed President Obama for allowing states to pursue legalization with little federal interference. “The Obama administration’s approach to drug policy is to simply announce that across the country, it is gonna stop enforcing certain drug laws,” Cruz told Reason. “I think most disturbingly, watching President Obama’s approach to drug laws is that he hasn’t tried to start a discussion, a dialogue about changing the laws. He simply decreed he’s not gonna enforce laws he doesn’t agree with.”

Earlier this year, Cruz pressed attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch with no fewer than 17 written questions about marijuana policy, including, “What steps will you take to require these states to cease and desist their support of the cultivation, distribution, and sale of marijuana, or to otherwise bring these states into compliance with existing federal controlled substance law?”

Cruz’s overall position seems to be that states should be allowed to legalize marijuana but, given current federal law, the presidential administration should continue to stand in the way of states that move forward. However, he hasn’t yet introduced any legislation to bring federal law into line with his apparent view that the national ban on marijuana possession, cultivation and sales should be removed so states can set their own policies without interference. He hasn’t even co-sponsored a bipartisan bill that fellow presidential contender Rand Paul and others have introduced to stop federal raids on state-legal medical marijuana patients and providers.

As for Cruz’s own relationship with the drug, a spokesman said, “When he was a teenager, he foolishly experimented with marijuana. It was a mistake, and he’s never tried it since.”




Iris Weston
Iris Weston


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