Where do the 2024 Republican presidential candidates stand on marijuana?
The first GOP primary debate is taking place this week in Milwaukee, officially kicking off election season. While the vote for president is still over a year away, the Republican party has already been hard at work in the search for a contender to take on President Joe Biden.
Despite his mounting legal issues, former President Donald Trump leads the Republican polls. He has said he will not be attending the GOP debates, taking issue with a required pledge that requires contenders to support the eventual nominee.
Eight other candidates met fundraising and polling thresholds to qualify for the first primary debate. While topics will likely range from the economy to the former president himself, many are wondering: where do the candidates stand when it comes to legal weed?
Opinions on cannabis legalization vary among the current list of GOP candidates. Here’s what we know so far.
Former President Donald Trump
It’s hard to know exactly how the former president feels about cannabis. During his 2020 campaign, President Trump said more than once he supported states’ rights to legalize the plant. However, no action was ever taken during his time in office. Since then, he has continued to waver.
In a recent interview, he said simultaneously that the plant is “a pretty popular thing” but also contends that it “does damage.” In the same interview, Trump stated that he would “take a look at some final results” prior to making a decision about whether he would support federal marijuana legalization.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
Trump’s main rival in the GOP race, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, is an opponent of adult-use cannabis. When asked if he would decriminalize cannabis as president at a campaign event in South Carolina earlier this year, Gov. DeSantis said, “I don’t think we would do that.”
As governor of Florida, DeSantis has cracked down on medical cannabis advertising while also making it more difficult for people to work in the state’s legal cannabis industry.
Pharma-tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy has been gaining steam in GOP polls and is currently in third place. He is a vocal supporter of cannabis reform, recently appearing on Bill Maher’s Club Random podcast to reiterate his stance.
In the interview, Ramaswamy argued for alignment between state laws and federal policy, saying the current is a “joke.” The businessman has also voiced his support for decriminalizing ayahuasca and ketamine for veterans with PTSD.
Former Vice President Mike Pence
The former vice president has long held an anti-cannabis position. Pence has spoken out against the passage of safe banking and voted down protections for state-legal medical marijuana programs during his time in Congress. As the governor of Indiana, Pence said on Twitter in 2016 that the state was “leaning into the war on drugs.”
Senator Tim Scott
South Carolina Senator Tim Scott does not seem to have a clear opinion on the legalization of cannabis. While he did vote against protecting individual states’ medical marijuana programs during his time in the House of Representatives, he has seemingly come out in support of cannabis banking reform.
The senator will likely need to be asked point-blank about his position on federal reform before an official stance can be asserted.
Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley
Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, has said it’s imperative that states have the power to make their own choices with regard to cannabis. In an interview earlier this year, Haley asserted her belief that “the freedoms of people to decide what it is they want in their state are really important.”
Haley’s overall track record on cannabis is light, but she has been supportive of hemp. During her time as governor, she signed a bill allowing doctors to prescribe CBD to patients with epilepsy. Haley also legalized industrial hemp in South Carolina years before the 2018 Farm Bill did so on a national scale.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
When asked about the war on drugs at a recent CNN town hall, the former New Jersey Governor vowed to “end it”—but that doesn’t mean he would legalize cannabis. Instead, Christie would focus on treatment for people caught possessing drugs and impose harsher penalties on dealers.
As governor of New Jersey, Christie was a staunch opponent of adult-use cannabis. He reportedly said that tax revenue from legal recreational marijuana sales equated to “blood money.” This came in spite of the state collecting tax on medical cannabis, which was approved in New Jersey in 2010 prior to Christie’s administration (adult use came once he left office).
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum
Seemingly in favor of medical cannabis, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum has yet to come out in support of adult use. North Dakota legalized medical marijuana in 2016; in 2019, Governor Burgum decriminalized possession of up to a half-ounce of cannabis. He has also pardoned a small number of people convicted of low-level cannabis possession.
Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson
Cannabis reform is unlikely should former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson be elected president—he previously led the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and has a track record of enforcing federal prohibition in states that have legalized.
Hutchinson has been a vocal opponent of adult-use cannabis, actively campaigning against efforts in his home state. He was also against the 2016 ballot initiative in Arkansas to legalize medical marijuana, a measure that ultimately passed. Surprisingly, he did admit in a recent interview that medical cannabis “does provide relief” and that it “makes some sense.”
The race for the White House is a starting line, with a marathon campaign season about to get underway. More will soon be revealed about the candidates’ approaches to cannabis, but it’s too early to tell if reform is in our country’s future in the event the next President comes from this pool of applicants.