4/20 in 2020: Presidential candidates’ views on cannabis legalization

In the most crowded slate in U.S. history, twenty-one Democratic presidential candidates have thrown their proverbial hats into the proverbial ring that is the 2020 election. While one previously perceived front-runner called it a “gateway drug” and doesn’t approve of marijuana, it’s clear that federal legalization of cannabis is a major factor linking most presidential hopefuls. Here’s where they stand:

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Michael Bennet

In support. The most recent to announce his candidacy and the second Coloradan to enter the race, senior U.S. senator Michael Bennet advocates for federal legalization. While he opposed his state’s 2012 legalization initiative, he’s since turned over a new leaf (no pun intended) and co-sponsored several cannabis bills. A significant focus of his, however, appears to be hemp development. Bennet wants to fight the stigma against hemp so that it’s viewed as more of a legitimate crop, removing it from the definition of marijuana under the CSA and seeking its legalization.

In 2018, he lashed back at a report stating the Trump administration was counteracting support for legal cannabis. Bennet said, “At a time when we should be investing in objective and peer-reviewed scientific research on marijuana and the effects of legalization, the White House is instead using taxpayer money to spread a politically-driven narrative. What’s perhaps most unfortunate is that my state and others stand ready to work as partners with the federal government to gather the data and research necessary to ensure we are protecting public health and safety.”

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Joe Biden

Not in support. Former vice president Joe Biden was initially considered a longtime front-runner for the 2020 campaign. When it comes to marijuana, he’s been against the substance for decades, even going so far as to call it a “gateway drug” in 2010, long after such talk became unpopular. In 2014, he restated his belief, but also commented that “…the idea of focusing significant resources on interdicting or convicting people for smoking marijuana is a waste of our resources.”

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Cory Booker

In support. Booker announced his candidacy in an interview on the Tom Joyner Morning show, and asserted that cannabis reform is a key component of his platform. “It means changing our drug laws, ending prohibition against marijuana, which has led—black folks are no different in their usage rates or even the dealing rates, but are almost four times more likely to be incarcerated for marijuana,” he said. “We do not have equal justice under the law.”

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Pete Buttigieg

In support. While he did not act on any legislation during his time as mayor of South Bend, Ind., Buttigieg has verbally expressed his support since announcing his candidacy. “The safe, regulated and legal sale of marijuana is an idea whose time has come for the United States, as evidenced by voters demanding legalization in states across the country,” he told The Boston Globe.

During an interview at South by Southwest, he addressed a time when he was a student at Harvard University and got caught with a joint. While the cop berated and searched him, Buttigieg was eventually let go. He acknowledged his white privilege as the reason: “A lot of people probably had the exact same experience, and would not have been believed, and would have been a lot worse than yelled at, and would not have slept in their own beds that night — and maybe would have been derailed in their college career because of it,” he said. “It’s one of many reasons why I think we have to end the war on drugs and move towards the legalization of marijuana.”

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Julian Castro

Tentatively in support. The former San Antonio mayor and President Obama’s U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary doesn’t exactly have an extensive record on marijuana policy. However, under his leadership for the latter role, a 2014 memo said owners of federally assisted housing facilities are required to deny entry to people who use marijuana. This even pertained to individuals using the substance for medical purposes in accordance with state law.  That said, he’s spoken out on social media, discouraging the federal government from cracking down on recreational crime. “A mistake,” he said in a 2017 tweet. “Colorado and other states have shown we can sensibly legalize marijuana with reasonable controls.” He echoed similar sentiments in a Facebook post.

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John Delaney

In support. The former U.S. Representative of Maryland co-sponsored a few marijuana-related bills while he was in Congress. One intended to keep individuals in legalized states safe from federal interference. When answering questions about illegal drugs at a CNN town hall discussion at South by Southwest in March, he commented that “having these things sold in the shadows” was a reason for trafficking, adding that marijuana should be regulated so it could be labeled, taxed and distributed appropriately.

He explained, “It is why, in many ways, there’s such a movement at the state level to legalize marijuana, to decriminalize it, and at a minimum to allow it to be legal for medical purposes. And I think the federal government should get out of the way and let that movement continue. Because right now the federal government is blocking it by keeping marijuana as a scheduled substance.”

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Tulsi Gabbard

In support. The U.S. Representative for Hawaii’s second congressional district told BuzzFeed News she believes “there are new opportunities to actually pass this piece of legislation.” She proposed two bills to back this up. One is the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would take marijuana off the list of nationally prohibited drugs. It wouldn’t be banned by the Controlled Substances Act, meaning states would be able to maintain their own preferred laws — an attractive policy to Republicans. She also proposed the Marijuana Data Collection Act, which would research each state’s cannabis legalization programs in order to achieve unbiased federal reports. She said it would “dispel myths and stigma” that have previously blocked marijuana law reform.

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Kristen Gillibrand

In support. The junior U.S. senator from New York has become a vocal advocate for federal marijuana reform in Congress, despite the fact that she did not co-sponsor any cannabis-related bills during her time in the House from 2007-2009. In fact, she voted against a floor amendment to protect state laws from federal interference. But people can change. In recent years, she’s signed onto several significant bills in support of cannabis, including the Marijuana Justice Act. It would not only remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, but also penalize states that enforce laws disproportionately against people of color using marijuana.

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Kamala Harris

In support. It’s no secret that the junior U.S. senator from California and Oakland native has received some criticism due to her past as a prosecutor who was against marijuana reform. When running against Republican Ronald Gold for re-election as state attorney general in 2014, she was asked to respond on her opponent’s stance on wanting to legalize recreational marijuana. She laughed, stating that he was entitled to his own opinion. Since then, she’s changed her tune, from admitting that she smoked in college to co-sponsoring the Marijuana Justice Act. “Half my family’s from Jamaica, are you kidding me?” she said on the morning show The Breakfast Club. “Listen, I think it gives a lot of people joy. And we need more joy.”

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John Hickenlooper

Says he’s in support, but legalization advocates aren’t so sure. On the eve of 4/20 this year, the former Colo. governor told the Denver Post he would sign a bill decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level. “A lot of states, certainly at the minimum, want to legalize medical marijuana,” he began. “Let’s get the FDA involved and research what are the different medical conditions where it’s effective and what are the side effects… let’s make it possible.” He previously opposed legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012, yet oversaw its successful implementation once it was passed. He did make a comment that made some legalization advocates raise their eyebrows: “That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly.”

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Jay Inslee

In support. This climate change advocate wants to save more than one type of tree. When announcing his candidacy, the Washington governor addressed that his state was one of the first to legalize cannabis, and “it’s about time we do it nationwide.” This is a change in tune from when he was running for his role in 2012, but despite that, he voted in favor of floor amendments to protect states that legalized medical cannabis from federal interference every year from 2003-2007. Most recently, he launched a program that intends to expedite “expungements of misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions” going back to 1998. He’s also repeatedly boasted that Wash. state has “the best weed in the United States of America.”

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Amy Klobuchar

Lightly in support. In a statement released by her presidential campaign, the senior U.S. Senator from Minnesota declared her support for legalization. She hasn’t introduced any bills herself, and held a “hard on drugs” stance while she was a prosecutor, but has co-sponsored other bills in support of it. The bills would not only prevent the federal government from interfering with state level cannabis policies, but also allow banks to provide services to cannabis businesses while ending the national prohibition of industrial hemp. In a statement to the Washington Post, she said, “I support the legalization of marijuana and believe that states should have the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders.” She has yet to make a comment on federal legalization.

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Wayne Messam

In support. The mayor of Miramar, Fla. does not include cannabis reform as one of his top priorities on his campaign website, but in his statements on criminal justice reform, he calls the war on drugs “a failure,” especially in communities of color. “I believe states that have decided to move forward with marijuana legalization should be allowed to do so and other states should feel free to join the ranks without threats from the federal government. As long as those states that choose to do so continue to enforce DUI laws, spread economic benefits throughout all communities, and expunge records for those arrested for selling marijuana, they would have my full support as president,” he wrote.

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Seth Moulton

In support. A former Marine Corps officer and U.S. Representative for Massachusetts’ sixth congressional district, Moulton has been the chief sponsor of three medical marijuana-related bills for military veterans. These bills would require the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to survey veterans about marijuana use, and provide training on cannabis to primary care doctors. Another would require the department to shield veterans from losing VA benefits due to state-compliant marijuana laws. He confessed to smoking pot while at Harvard, and told WGBH, “I support legalization, but we do need to make sure it’s done right. We have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible.”

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Beto O’Rourke

In support. The former Texas congressman has expressed that marijuana reform is a priority of his, speaking on it at an Iowa coffee shop just hours into his campaign. He expressed the country “should end the federal prohibition on marijuana.” While in Congress, he was the chief sponsor of one piece of drug reform legislation, The Better Drive Act, and supported many others. The bill would “repeal a law reducing highway funding for states if they did not automatically suspend drivers licenses of anyone convicted of a drug offense.” Being in a punk rock band in the ‘90s, he was adjacent to cannabis culture and admits to smoking it himself. O’Rourke also seeks to expunge criminal records for prior cannabis possession convictions in states where it’s legalized.

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Tim Ryan

In support. The Ohio congressman has shown his support for marijuana legalization in his co-sponsorship of several cannabis reform bills in recent years. Among them is the Marijuana Justice Act, as well as legislation that supports the federal regulation of marijuana like alcohol, and another that would provide tax fairness for the cannabis industry. His commentary on the issue is limited in comparison to his peers, but he’s advocated for legalization in all 50 states, calling our current laws “morally wrong, economically nonsensical, and an unnecessary strain on our already strained law enforcement officials.”

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Bernie Sanders

In support. The former mayor of Burlington, Vt., junior U.S. senator and 2016 presidential candidate was the first to endorse marijuana legalization during his last bid. In 2015, he filed the first-ever Senate bill to end federal marijuana prohibition. In his latest presidential bid, he announced that the government “needs to end the destructive war on drugs.” He added, “I am running for President because we need to invest in jobs and education for our kids, not more jails and incarceration. We need to end the destructive war on drugs private prisons, and cash bail, and bring about major police department reform.”

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Eric Swalwell

In support. The U.S. Representative from the San Francisco Bay Area has not been the lead sponsor of any cannabis bills, but endorsed the state’s adult-use legalization measure before it was passed in 2016. He’s also supported bills to end federal marijuana prohibition. His original co-sponsorship of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2019 would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act. The second would “shield federally insured banks and credit institutions from being punished by federal regulators for serving cannabis businesses.”

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Elizabeth Warren

In support. The senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts recently reaffirmed that she “voted in favor of legalizing marijuana” in her state and that she believes “we should legalize it nationally.” It was a necessary clarification, given that she claimed she endorsed the Massachusetts initiative publicly, which was untrue, according to Marijuana Moment. Her sponsorship of the STATES Act would end the federal prohibition on weed by allowing states to decide their own marijuana laws, though it has received pushback from Cory Booker and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for its lack of a restorative justice component.

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Marianne Williamson

In support. The author, lecturer and activist who might be more famously known as Oprah’s ‘spiritual adviser’ has long been a supporter of legalization. “My opinion is we are so beyond worrying about marijuana. We are onto something so much bigger than marijuana,” she told the New Hampshire Valley News, addressing the opioid epidemic and issues individuals face with heroin and fentanyl.

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Andrew Yang

In support. The tech entrepreneur lists the legalization of marijuana as one of the foremost policies on his campaign website, writing, “This would improve safety, social equity, and generate tens of billions of dollars in new revenue based on legal cannabis businesses.” He also pledged to issue mass pardons for non-violent drug offenders, saying that after legalizing marijuana he would “pardon them on April 20, 2021” and “high-five them on the way out of jail.”

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