The Iowa Caucus and Marijuana: 2016 Candidates Weigh in on Cannabis

By Daniel Shortt

As the election cycle accelerates into high gear with the Iowa Caucus, our readers may have questions on what the major presidential candidates think about marijuana. In this post, we complied some quotes and policies from the four most viable presidential hopefuls.

Used under CC license. Image by Fickr user DonkeyHotey.


Donald Trump. The GOP leader appears to be fairly open to marijuana legalization, despite some inconsistent statements over the past few months. The Washington Post reported in October that he was open to legalization at the state level, saying, “in terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state.” He also was open to allowing patients to access medical marijuana. In June of 2015 Mr. Trump took a different stance when talking to a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference: “I say it’s bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think [recreational marijuana] it’s bad. And I feel strongly about that.” When it came to States’ rights Mr. Trump said, “If they vote for it, they vote for it. But they’ve got a lot of problems going on right now, in Colorado. Some big problems. But I think medical marijuana, 100 percent.”

In the early 1990s, long before Mr. Trump was considered a viable presidential candidate, he spoke about legalizing all drugs, as reported by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “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.” It appears that Mr. Trump holds a more nuanced view on drugs than he did 25 years ago, but he appears to favor legalization in the form that it has taken so far.

Ted Cruz. Mr. Cruz told Hugh Hewitt in April: “When it comes to a question of legalizing marijuana, I don’t support legalizing marijuana. If it were on the ballot in the state of Texas, I would vote no. But I also believe that’s a legitimate question for the states to make a determination…I think it is appropriate for the federal government to recognize that the citizens of those states have made that decision, and one of the benefits of it, you know, using Brandeis’ terms of laboratories of democracy, is we can now watch and see what happens in Colorado and Washington State.” Mr. Cruz is referring to a famous quote by the legendary Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis were he described how a “state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Mr. Cruz appears to acknowledge that legalization at the state level may serve as an example for legalization across the country.


Bernie Sanders. Mr. Sanders has introduced a bill to Congress that would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances, thereby ending federal prohibition. As of this writing, the bill has failed to generate a single co-sponsor. Needless to say, Mr. Sanders appears to be the 2016 candidate most in favor of marijuana legalization. Mr. Sanders appears to be troubled by the fact that men and women are spending time behind bars for marijuana related offenses, asking “Who is satisfied that millions of people have police records for possessing marijuana when the CEOs of Wall Street companies who destroyed our country have no police records?”

Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton has not gone to the lengths of Mr. Sanders when it comes to marijuana reform, but does appear to be dissatisfied with the status quo. Shortly after Mr. Sanders introduced his bill to deschedule marijuana, the former Secretary of State elaborated on a plan to deschedule marijuana and thereby easing research pathways. Her plan would reclas­sify mar­i­juana under the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act from a Sched­ule I drug to a Sched­ule II sub­stance.  Sched­ule I drugs have a high poten­tial for abuse and no accepted med­ical use. Sched­ule II drugs may have a high abuse poten­tial, but they have accepted med­ical uses (e.g., morphine). Mrs. Clinton appears to favor changing the federal drug policy on marijuana, even if not endorsing full legalization.

Bottomline. The fact that the four major presidential hopefuls are in some way in favor of marijuana legalization is telling that we are continuing to experience a cultural shift on how we think of cannabis. Just a few years ago it would have been very controversial for a viable candidate to endorse medical marijuana. Now, all four major candidates for the 2016 election have done just that, with at least one advocating for full legalization.


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