Where the 2016 presidential candidates stand on marijuana

Dylan Stableford
image

Legalization has suddenly become a sticky issue in the 2016 election. (Gordon Donovan/Yahoo News)

When the candidates take the stage in Boulder, Colo., on Wednesday night for the third Republican debate, they will do so in a state that effectively became the premiere test case for America’s foray into drug legalization as the first to regulate the sale of recreational marijuana more than 19 months ago.

A Gallup poll released last week shows that a majority of Americans continue to support that effort, with 58 percent saying pot use should be legal in the United States.

So where does the crop of 2016 presidential candidates stand on the marijuana issue?

image

Rand Paul talks with patrons during a campaign stop at a diner in Merrimack, N.H., in April. (Photo: Charles Krupa/AP)

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul

• Ever smoke marijuana? Sounds like it.
• Position on pot: Supports medical marijuana, access to banking services, right for states to decide.
• MPP grade: A-

Paul is the most vocal critic of the so-called war on drugs in the GOP field.

The libertarian-leaning Kentucky senator has been outspoken in his support of medical marijuana, decriminalization of marijuana and keeping the federal government out of heady state-level politics like legalization.

“If your kid was caught selling marijuana or growing enough that it’s a felony conviction, they could be in jail for an extended period of time — they also lose their ability to be employable,“ Paul told a Kentucky television station last year. "I want to change all of that. I want to lessen the criminal penalties on it.”

In March, Paul joined Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand in introducing a historic bipartisan bill that would end the federal ban on medical marijuana, allowing “patients, doctors and businesses in states that have already passed medical marijuana laws to participate in those programs without fear of federal prosecution.”

In an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric, Paul called out Jeb Bush for his opposition to Florida’s medical marijuana initiative.

“If you’ve got MS in Florida, Jeb Bush voted to put you in jail if you go to a local drugstore and get medical marijuana,” he said. “Yet he was doing it for recreational purposes, and it’s a different standard for him because he was from a very wealthy family going to a wealthy school, and he got off scot-free.”

In June, Paul hosted a VIP reception for campaign donors at the National Cannabis Industry Association’s second annual Cannabis Business Summit and Expo in Denver, where he fielded questions from about 40 people on his support of federal medical marijuana and allowing states to determine their own cannabis laws, among other weed-centric issues, according to the NCIA.

A month later, he joined the bipartisan effort to give America’s legal marijuana industry access to banking services, co-sponsoring the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015 in the Senate.

As for his own use?

“Let’s just say I wasn’t a choirboy when I was in college,” Paul said in an interview with WHAS-TV. “I can recognize that kids make mistakes, and I can say that I made mistakes when I was a kid.”

The Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-pot lobbying group that is rating the 2016 candidates based on marijuana policy, gave Paul an "A-” — the highest grade among any of 15 remaining the Republican hopefuls.

 

image

Jeb Bush speaks during the second Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, Calif., in September. (Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Jeb Bush, former Florida governor

• Ever smoke marijuana? Yes — and he’s sorry about it, Mom.
• Position on pot: Opposes legalization of both recreational and medical marijuana.
• MPP grade: D

During the second Republican presidential debate, Bush said he smoked pot in high school.

“Forty years ago, I smoked marijuana, and I admit it,” Bush. “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.”

“Sorry Mom,” Bush tweeted shortly after his admission.

 

 

Sorry Mom

— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) September 17, 2015

 


But the former Florida governor also said legalization should be left up to the states.

“What goes on in Colorado, as far as I’m concerned, that should be a state decision,” Bush said. “But if you look at the problem of drugs in this, in this society today, it’s a serious problem.”

Bush pointed to the heroin epidemic in states like Vermont and New Hampshire, saying the federal government should “play a consistent role” in providing treatment and prevention programs.

“People’s families are being torn apart,” he said. “In Florida, there are drug courts to give people a second chance.”

But Bush has taken a hard-line approach when it comes to legalization. Last fall, he released a statement urging Florida voters to reject a ballot initiative that would have legalized medical marijuana in the Sunshine State.

“Allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter” to efforts to make Florida “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,” Bush said.

A majority of Florida voters (57 percent) disagreed, but the measure fell short of the 60 percent approval it needed to pass.

image

Carly Fiorina speaks in Hooksett, N.H., on Oct. 3. (Photo: Cheryl Senter/AP)

Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard chief executive

• Ever smoke marijuana? Unclear.
• Position on pot: Supports decriminalization, but not much else.
• MPP grade: C+

During the second Republican presidential debate, Fiorina used the issue of marijuana legalization to pivot to a personal story about her stepdaughter, Lori, who died in 2009 after struggling with alcohol, prescription pills and bulimia.

“I very much hope I am the only person on this stage who can say this, but I know there are millions of Americans out there who will say the same thing,” Fiorina said. “My husband, Frank, and I buried a child to drug addiction. So we must invest more in the treatment of drugs.”

Fiorina says she supports allowing individual states to determine their own marijuana laws, but she has personal reservations about pot use.

“We are misleading young people when we tell them that marijuana is just like having a beer. It’s not,” she said. “And the marijuana that kids are smoking today is not the same as the marijuana that Jeb Bush smoked 40 years ago.”

The former Hewlett-Packard chief executive called for criminal justice reform.

“We do need criminal justice reform,” she said. “We have the highest incarceration rates in the world. Two-thirds of the people in our prisons are there for nonviolent offenses, mostly drug related. It’s clearly not working. But we need to tell young people the truth. Drug addiction is an epidemic, and it is taking too many of our young people. I know this sadly from personal experience.”

 

image

Donald Trump speaks at a rally in South Carolina last week. (Photo: Chris Keane/Reuters)

Donald Trump

• Ever smoke marijuana? Unclear.
• Position on pot: Supports legalizing medical marijuana, not recreational marijuana.
• MPP grade: C

Back in 1990, real estate developer Donald Trump said that the U.S. would have to legalize all drugs to win the war on drugs by taking the profits from the “drug czars.”

But Trump moved considerably to the right on the issue.

“I’d say [regulating marijuana] is bad. Medical marijuana is another thing,” he said on C-SPAN in February, “but I think it’s bad and I feel strongly about that.”

When confronted with a states’ rights argument, Trump responded, “If they vote for it, they vote for it. But you know, they’ve got a lot of problems going on in Colorado right now. Big problems. But I think medical marijuana, 100 percent.”

He has trolled Bush for his admitted past marijuana use by implying that the former governor might still enjoy a puff from time to time.

image

Ben Carson greets audience members at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, on Oct. 24. (Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon

• Ever smoke marijuana? Unclear.
• Position on pot: Supports medical marijuana in “compassionate cases,” but not recreational marijuana.
• MPP grade: D

Carson says that medical marijuana can be helpful for patients under certain circumstances but does not support legalizing the plant, calling it a gateway drug.

“I think medical use of marijuana in compassionate cases certainly has been proven to be useful,” the retired neurosurgeon said in a recent interview with Fox News. “But recognize 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.”

 

image

Marco Rubio speaks on Capitol Hill on April 14, 2015. (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio

• Ever smoke marijuana? “If I tell you that I haven’t, you won’t believe me.”
• Position on pot: Supports limited legalization of medical marijuana.
• MPP grade: D

Rubio is nearly as vocal in his opposition to legalization as fellow candidate Chris Christie.

In April, he said he would roll back marijuana laws enacted in states like Colorado.

“I think we need to enforce our federal laws,” Rubio told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. States have their rights,“ Rubio said, but they don’t have a right to rewrite federal policy.

"I don’t believe we should be in the business of legalizing additional intoxicants in this country for the primary reason that when you legalize something, what you’re sending [is] a message to young people [that] it can’t be that bad,” Rubio said. “Because if it was that bad, it wouldn’t be legal.”

In a 2014 interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Rubio did say he supports legalizing medical marijuana — as long as it doesn’t get you high.

“If there are medicinal uses of marijuana that don’t have the elements that are mind-altering or create the high but do alleviate whatever condition it may be they are trying to alleviate, that is something I would be open to,” he said.

Like Bush, Rubio opposed last year’s ballot initiative that would have made medical marijuana legal in Florida.

The Florida senator has also refused to answer whether he ever smoked marijuana.

“If I tell you that I haven’t, you won’t believe me,” Rubio told Fusion in 2014. "And if I tell you that I did, then kids will look up to me and say, ‘Well, I can smoke marijuana because look how he made it. He did all right, so I guess I can do it too.’”

He added: “The bottom line is that it is a substance that alters your mind. Now when I was 17 and 18 and 16, I made dumb decisions as is. I didn’t need the help of marijuana or alcohol to further that.”

 

image

Ted Cruz speaks to potential supporters in New Hampshire on April 19. (Photo: Mary Schwalm/AP)

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz

• Ever smoke marijuana? Yes, "foolishly.”
• Position on pot: Personally opposed, but supports letting the states decide.
• MPP grade: C+

Cruz has shifted positions on the issue of legalization.

But at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Cruz said he supports Colorado’s experiment with legalization.

“If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative,” he said. “I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”

“I don’t support drug legalization, but I do support the Constitution,“ Cruz told the Texas Tribune the next month. "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.”

But in 2014, the Texas senator blasted the Obama administration for not interfering with states like Colorado and Washington on weed.

“The Obama administration’s approach to drug policy is to simply announce that across the country, it is going to stop enforcing certain drug laws,” Cruz told Reason magazine. “Now that may or may not be a good policy, but I would suggest that should concern anyone — it should even concern libertarians who support that policy outcome — because the idea that the president simply says criminal laws that are on the books, we’re going to ignore [them]. That is a very dangerous precedent.

“Anyone who is concerned about liberty should be concerned about the notion that this president, over and over again, has asserted the right to pick and choose what laws to follow,” Cruz continued. “That is fundamentally dangerous to the liberty of the people.”

Like Bush, Cruz smoked pot when he was a teenager.

“Teenagers are often known for their lack of judgment, and Sen. Cruz was no exception,” a Cruz spokesperson told the Daily Mail. “When he was a teenager, he foolishly experimented with marijuana. It was a mistake, and he’s never tried it since.”

image

Lindsey Graham serves as a guest bartender at Walnut Brewery in Boulder, Colo., on Tuesday. (Photo: Jason Bahr/Getty Images)

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham

• Ever smoke marijuana? Unclear.
• Position on pot: Supports legalizing medical marijuana, not recreational marijuana.
• MPP grade: C-

In an appearance on WBTV, Graham said that he is against legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes but is open to medical marijuana being on the table.

“I think politicians should embrace what makes sense," Graham said. "When it comes to issues like this, I don't want to be academic in thought. This is about people. This is about families with sick children. Why should someone in my position get in the way of helping a child, if you can reasonably and logically do it?"

image

Christie (J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

• Ever smoke marijuana? “The answer is no.”
• Position on pot: Opposes legalization, will roll back laws in states like Colorado.
• MPP grade: F

Among all the GOP presidential candidates, Christie is the most unwavering in his opposition to marijuana legalization — and says he’ll enforce the federal laws against it as president.

The New Jersey governor says his opposition to legal weed is reaffirmed every time he visits Colorado.

“For the people who are enamored with the idea, with the income — the tax revenue — from this, go to Colorado and see if you want to live there,” Christie said in April 2014. “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.”

The governor likes to boast that New Jersey is the first state in the nation to mandate that nonviolent, nondealing drug users be sent to treatment for their first offense rather than jail.

But “that doesn’t mean we should be legalizing gateway drugs,” he said during last month’s Republican presidential debate.

“I think it sends a wrong message to our kids,“ Christie said on his radio show last year. "And I don’t think it makes anybody a better or more productive person.”

In April, Christie was asked by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt if he would force states to end regulation.

“Absolutely,” he said bluntly. “I will crack down and not permit it.”

In 2012, Christie was asked on Twitter if he had ever gotten high.

“The answer is no,” the governor tweeted.

Not surprisingly, Christie gets an “F” from the Marijuana Policy Project — the lowest grade among any of the 2016 candidates.

image

John Kasich speaks during a balanced budget town hall in Manchester, N.H.  (Photo: Jim Cole/AP)

Ohio Gov. John Kasich

• Ever smoke marijuana? Unclear.
• Position on pot: “Totally opposed” to recreational and medical marijuana
• MPP grade: C-

Kasich says that he is opposed to recreational and medical marijuana because it is a “scourge in this country.” When asked about states that have legalized marijuana, he admits that he has not thought about it much.

“I haven’t thought about this. I’d have to give it a little thought,“ Kasich said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show in April. "In my state and across this country, if I happened to be president, I would lead a significant campaign down at the grassroots level to stomp these drugs out of our country.”

image

Bobby Jindal speaks to supporters and students at Faith Baptist College, in Ankeny, Iowa, last month. (Photo: Bryon Houlgrave/Des Moines Register)

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal 

• Ever smoke marijuana? Unclear.
• Position on pot: “Could be OK with” limited access to medical marijuana, not recreational marijuana.
• MPP rating: C-

Jindal has said that he would “bring down the hammer” on marijuana dispensaries that are operating in states that have legalized the plant, citing federal law.

“I don’t think anyone should be legalizing marijuana, I think that’s a mistake,” Jindal told ABC News. “When it comes to the issue of medical marijuana, I’ve said as long as it’s done under tight restrictions, I can be OK with that.”

image

George Pataki speaks at the annual Seacoast Republican Women’s Chili Festival in Stratham, N.H., last month. (Photo: Jim Cole/AP)

George Pataki, former New York governor

• Ever smoke marijuana? Yes.
• Position on pot: Opposes legalization of medical and recreation marijuana, but would not interfere with state’s decisions as president.
• MPP grade: C

Pataki has said that he does not support the legalization of marijuana, including for medical marijuana. However, the former New York governor said that the federal government should respect a state’s decision on the matter.

“I am not in favor of legalizing marijuana, but having said that I am a great believer that states are the laboratory of democracy,” he said on Bloomberg News.

And in 1994, during Pataki’s first gubernatorial campaign, he said he tried smoking marijuana during college but didn’t like it — and stuck with beer instead.

image

Jim Gilmore addresses a rally against the Iran nuclear deal in Washington in September. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Jim Gilmore, former Virginia governor

• Ever smoke marijuana? Unclear.
• Position on pot: Against legalization for recreational or medical use.
• MPP grade: D

Gilmore does not support legalizing marijuana for any purpose.

“I’m not a legalization guy. I think that it’s not a substance, it’s a lifestyle, and a quality of life and approach that I’m afraid I can’t adhere to,” Gilmore told New Hampshire’s WMUR-TV. “I understand that some people are able to use marijuana in a recreational way and it probably doesn’t hurt society, but at the end of the day, I don’t believe we ought to be legalizing and putting the legitimacy of the state onto substance abuse. I just don’t believe it.”

image

Rick Santorum speaks in Hooksett, N.H., on Oct. 3. (Photo: Cheryl Senter/AP)

Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania senator

• Ever smoke marijuana? Yes.
• Position on pot: Opposed to legalizing marijuana for recreational or medical use.
• MPP grade: F

Santorum is opposed to marijuana legalization for any purpose and thinks the federal government has the right to supersede state laws on the issue.

At an event in January 2012, he said, “The federal government does have a role in making sure that drug use — that states don’t go out and legalize drugs. That there are drugs that are hazardous to people, that do cause great harm to the individual as well as society to the whole.”

Santorum says that he smoked marijuana in college but wishes he had not.

“I admitted back when I was running for the Senate that when I was in college that I smoked pot and that that was something that you know I did when I was in college,“ Santorum once said on CNN. "It was something that I’m not proud of but I did.”

image

Mike Huckabee speaks at a summit for conservative voters in Washington last month. (Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AP)

Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor

• Ever smoke marijuana? Unclear.
• Position on pot: Open to states experimenting with legalization.
• MPP grade: B-

Huckabee is taking a wait-and-see approach to legalization, pledging he would not interfere with state-level laws as president.

“Let’s let Colorado have at it for a few years and let’s see how that works out for them,” the former Arkansas governor said in an interview with KCCI-TV in Iowa earlier this month. “I’m willing to let states operate under the 10th Amendment, and I’m willing for the states, if they think that marijuana and the legalization of it is a great thing, you know, I’m willing for them to experiment and find out. And it if it works and it turns out that the presence of recreational marijuana makes them a more prosperous state … well heck, we may just all want to reach out there and grab that.”

Those remarks led the Marijuana Policy Project to upgrade Huckabee’s “D” rating to a “B minus.”

But Huckabee is personally opposed to legalization, and has questioned the logic of those who support it.

“What is a young person supposed to think when the state says, ‘Don’t do drugs … even though everyone around you is and the same authority figures who tell you it’s bad not only condone it, but are also making a big profit off it?‘” he wrote on Facebook.

image

Bernie Sanders speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, last week. (Photo: Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders

• Ever smoke marijuana? Yes, but "it wasn’t for me.”
• Position on pot: Open to legalization.
• MPP grade: A

Sanders has said he tried marijuana once or twice and didn’t like it. But he became the first-ever major party presidential candidate to express support for legalization.

During the first Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Sanders was asked if he would vote to legalize recreational marijuana.

“I suspect I would vote yes,” Sanders said. “I would vote yes because I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for nonviolent offenses.  We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away, and yet we are imprisoning or giving jail sentences to young people who are smoking marijuana.”

Sanders elaborated on his pot position last week during an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

“We have large numbers of lives that have been destroyed because of this war on drugs and because people were caught smoking marijuana and so forth,” Sanders said. “I think we have got to end the war on drugs. I am not unfavorably disposed to moving toward the legalization of marijuana.”

For that, Sanders received an “A” rating from the Marijuana Policy Project — the highest grade of any presidential candidate.

 

image

Martin O'Malley speaks at a Democratic fundraiser in Iowa in April. (Photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Martin O'Malley, former Maryland governor

• Ever smoke marijuana? Unclear.
• Position on pot: Supports decriminalization.
• MPP grade: C-

O'Malley has said he’s “not much in favor” of legalization of both recreational and medical marijuana, but his record — and recent comments — indicate he’s becoming more comfortable with the idea.

“I think we need to have an open mind,“ O'Malley told CNN earlier this month. "I think there’s a lot we can learn from Colorado and Washington state. They seem to be keeping very good records. They understand they are the first in the nation, and I think we should be guided by what they are doing in Colorado increases harm or reduces harm.”

Last year, O'Malley signed into law a bill decriminalizing possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana in Maryland. Last month, O'Malley announced he would direct the attorney general to move to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule II drug as president.

“As a young prosecutor, I once thought that decriminalizing the possession of marijuana might undermine the public will necessary to combat drug violence and improve public safety,” O’Malley once said.

Now, the former governor agrees that it is a "low priority.”

 

image

Hillary Clinton speaks in Monticello, Iowa, in April. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state

• Ever smoke marijuana? No.
• Position on pot: Supports medical marijuana “under appropriate circumstances.”
• MPP grade: B

While her husband uttered the most infamous response to the pot question (“I didn’t inhale”) in American political history, Hillary Clinton says she has never tried marijuana.

“I didn’t do it when I was young,“ Clinton told CNN last year. "I’m not going to start now.”

The former secretary supports the use of medical marijuana, but says more research is needed.

“I think we need to be very clear about the benefits of marijuana use for medicinal purposes,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve done enough research yet.”

As far as recreational weed, Clinton says she wants to see how it works in Colorado and Washington before she endorses legalization on the national level.

"I think that we have the opportunity through the states that are pursuing recreational marijuana to find out a lot more than we know today,” she said during the first Democratic debate. “I think we’re just at the beginning, but I agree completely with the idea that we have got to stop imprisoning people who use marijuana.”

But in July, she said this: “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.”

While the legalization of marijuana appears to be a campaign issue in 2016, past use of the drug won’t be one.

According to a CBS News poll released in April, 75 percent of American voters say that a candidate’s history of marijuana use would not affect their vote. And 58 percent of Americans now say the use of marijuana should be legal — an all-time high.

 

Related graphic: Where the candidates stand on the issues >>>