At this point, it might be easier to ask anyone not running for president what their stances on on major issues, but in John Kasich's case, it's probably okay to make an exception. The Ohio governor, who officially announced his 2016 Republican candidacy on Tuesday, has been accused by his own party of being "insufficiently conservative," as The National Journal's Michelle Cottle once put it. Certainly, with his seemingly moderate views on immigration, prison reform, and climate change, he's no right-wing darling — which makes him an instant draw for an inquisitive public. With a wide, and largely far-right, GOP field, Kasich sticks out like a sore thumb, worrying party leaders who fret that he may be pulling attention from their pet favorites. Fortunately, for all his "centrist" talk, Kasich's stubborn stance on marijuana might actually help him win back a few of those points with traditional Republicans.
"[If elected president], I would lead a significant campaign down at the grass-roots level to stomp these drugs out of our country," Kasich told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview back in April, failing to make a distinction between pot-use and abuse of harder drugs, as political site Mediaite was quick to point out. "We're doing it in Ohio in a variety of ways, through education, prosecution."
Kasich added that the federal government seemed to have "decided to look the other way." Still, he reassured Hewitt, he wouldn't take on the current legalized status of medical marijuana in places like Oregon and Colorado, indicating that it was a "states' rights" issue.
Compared to some of his fellow Republican candidates (of which there are currently too many too count), Kasich's statements are surprisingly harsh.
"One of the problems is the federal government has come into states that have allowed medical marijuana and still harass them so I think the federal government ought to stay out," said 2016 presidential hopeful and current Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, during a meeting with reporters in late June. "I support legislation to allow [legal marijuana dealers] to do traditional banking and allow them to do traditional tax returns as well."
Paul, The Washington Post noted that same month, was "believed to be the first major presidential candidate to raise campaign funds" through legal marijuana sale-fundraisers.
Following Paul into a similar arena was Republican candidate and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who told a CPAC crowd earlier this year that, while he didn't agree with pot use himself, it was up to the states to decide what was best for themselves.
"If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative," said Cruz. "I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s their right."
Kasich, however, is standing firm. In an interview with Dayton CBS affiliate WHIO back in October 2014, Kasich was asked whether he would consider legalizing marijuana in his home state, to which he replied,
We're not going to do that if I have anything to say about it, because we already have ... a big problem in this state with drugs. ... We've done so many things on this — number one, we shut down the "pill mills" that were passing out prescription drugs like there was no tomorrow. ... Highway Patrol, sheriffs, local law enforcement are all busting the drug dealers. And thirdly, we expanded Medicaid, so we can begin to treat people that already have these addictions.
Of that last part, however, Kasich is a big proponent, opting to reprimand drug users by putting them into rehabilitation programs rather than punishing them with lengthy prison sentences — a definite shift away from politicians like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who pushed for strict consequences for marijuana users by opposing an amendment in his state that would have allowed drug users to seek treatment and avoid significant jail time.
Although Kasich's views on legalizing marijuana may seem strict at first glance (he told reporters in 2012 that there were "better ways to help people who are in pain" than doling out pot), his overarching belief in states rights may be the one caveat the ensures he snags both the moderate vote and at least a small piece of the GOP financial pie that he needs.
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