2020 Candidates' Stance On Weed Shows Most Of Them Support Your Right To Blaze
The 2020 election is heating up, and one of the many issues the candidates have weighed in on is marijuana. Although the drug is illegal at the federal level, many states have legalized it on a medical and/or recreational basis, and efforts to remove the federal prohibition on the drug are gaining steam in the Senate. As such, many observers are wondering exactly where the 2020 candidates stand on marijuana legalization.
Marijuana policy is complex and multifaceted, and there are many ways in which a politician might be called "pro-marijuana." For instance, they might support de-scheduling the drug from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA); this would immediately end the federal prohibition on marijuana and, as a result, bring states that have already legalized it in compliance with federal law.
Alternatively, a politician could support legalizing medical, but not recreational, marijuana. Or, they could support retaining the federal ban but carving out an exception for states that have legalized it on their own; this is what the STATES Act, currently under consideration in Congress, would do. For politicians who support some form of legalization, there's also the question of whether to expunge the criminal records, and release from prison, those who've been convicted of marijuana-related crimes.
Recently, Sen. Cory Booker introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, a far-reaching piece of legislation that would end the federal ban on marijuana, expunge marijuana convictions, invest in job training for the marijuana industry, and cut funding for local police departments that disproportionately arrested people of color for marijuana-related crimes.
Here's a look at where the upcoming batch of presidential contenders stands on weed:
President Donald Trump
While running for president, Trump claimed he believes marijuana legalization should be left up to the states, and in mid-2018, the president said he'd "probably" end up supporting the STATES Act if Senate Republicans allowed it to come up for a vote (which they haven't).
Substantively, however, Trump has done nothing to advance marijuana legalization — and according to a report BuzzFeed News, his administration secretly established a "Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee" tasked with collecting "data demonstrating the most significant negative trends" of marijuana. Bustle has reached out to the White House for confirmation of that report.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
Booker is a strong supporter of marijuana rights. A year before introducing the Marijuana Justice Act in 2018, he proposed the Marijuana Reform Act, a slightly less comprehensive bill that would have nevertheless ended the federal ban on marijuana. Booker has often spoken out against the war on drugs and supported several smaller pieces of pro-marijuana legislation in the past.
California Sen. Kamala Harris
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sanders is strongly pro-weed, and always has been. A longtime opponent of the war on drugs, the Vermont senator proposed legalizing medical marijuana way back in 2001, and endorsed ending the the federal ban on marijuana in 2015. He's co-sponsored legislation that would allow financial institutions to do business with the marijuana industry, and more recently co-sponsored the Marijuana Justice Act. It's no wonder Sanders has an A+ rating from NORML, the pro-marijuana advocacy group.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
In 2013, Warren criticized an opponent who supported marijuana legalization. But she has evolved on the issue, and now supports legalization through the Marijuana Justice Act. Warren is also one of the lead co-sponsors of the STATES Act, and has supported legislation that would allow marijuana businesses to more easily conduct financial transactions even if the federal ban isn't repealed.
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
As Minnesota's attorney general, Klobuchar had a D rating from NORML, indicating a "hard on drugs" stance. According to Mashable, she's the only Senate Democrat running for president who doesn't support the Marijuana Justice Act. However, Klobuchar said in a statement in February that she supports the legalization of marijuana, and she's endorsed the STATES Act. During her time in the Senate, NORML upgraded Klobuchar's ranking from a D to a B.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
During her time in the House of Representatives, Gillibrand voted against legislation to protect states that legalized marijuana from federal intervention. But she supported such legislation as a senator, and is now a forceful advocate for legalization. Gillibrand supports the Marijuana Justice Act and has spoken about the disproportionate effect that marijuana laws have on black and Latinx communities.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Unlike the lawmakers on this list, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, hasn't had to vote on any marijuana-related bills, because he's not a lawmaker. However, his office reportedly told Mashable that he supports legalization.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee
Although the Washington governor has signaled that climate change will be his signature policy in the 2020 race, he's also strongly pro-marijuana. During his time in the House, he voted on several measures to protect states that legalized marijuana from federal interference, and co-sponsored a bill to reschedule the drug. Although he opposed full legalization back in 2012, Inslee changed his position after Washington voters approved a legalization measure, and he now supports full legalization nationwide. Inslee recently announced an initiative to grant clemency to certain people convicted of marijuana-related crimes, and NORML has given him an A rating.
Texas Rep. Julian Castro
Like Buttigieg, Castro isn't a lawmaker and lacks any voting record on marijuana. He hasn't said whether he supports full legalization, but has suggested that he believes it's a state issue and has spoken out against federal efforts to interfere with state legalization efforts. When Castro was secretary of housing and urban development, however, the agency published a memo clarifying that marijuana users are ineligible for federal housing assistance.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
The former governor of Colorado has a long history of dealing with marijuana laws, as he presided over his state's legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012. Although Hickenlooper opposed that ballot measure before voters approved it, he dutifully implemented it after it passed, and has been mostly supportive of legalization efforts since. Hickenlooper has signed bills to fund medical marijuana research, allow people on parole or probation to use medical marijuana and increase the maximum amount of marijuana out-of-state customers can purchase at Colorado dispensaries. He has a B rating from NORML — although he's said he'd be open to banning marijuana again if it was proven to increase crime (which it hasn't).
Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke
O'Rourke is a longtime supporter of marijuana legalization, Vox reports, dating back to his time on the El Paso City Council. As a city councilman in 2009, he called the war on drugs "a complete failure" and sponsored a resolution calling for "an honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition of narcotics," the Austin Chronicle reported at the time. He co-wrote a book in 2011 calling for marijuana to be legalized, and as a congressman, co-sponsored over a dozen laws aiming to reform federal marijuana laws. He reiterated his support for ending the federal ban on marijuana in March.
Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam
Messam's position on marijuana is unclear, as his campaign website doesn't mention marijuana policy and he doesn't appear to have spoken publicly about where he stands on the issue. Bustle has reached out to his campaign for clarity on his position.
New York Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
On his website, Yang says that while he'd prefer that people not smoke marijuana heavily, America's "criminalization of it seems stupid and racist," and that the government should "proceed with full legalization of marijuana and pardon those in jail for non-violent marijuana-related offenses."
Author And Motivational Speaker Marianne Williamson
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan
In July 2018, Ryan wrote an op-ed for CNN in which he called for marijuana to be legalized in all 50 states, and endorsed Booker's Marijuana Justice Act.
Former Vice President Joe Biden
Biden is arguably the most anti-marijuana Democrat running for president. As Rolling Stone notes, he's opposed legalizing marijuana for the entirety of his career in the Senate, and reaffirmed his opposition in a 2014 TIME interview.
As a senator, Biden introduced the Comprehensive Narcotics Control Act of 1986, which would have established mandatory minimum sentences and increased penalties for certain types of marijuana possession, and the National Drug Control Strategy Act of 1990, which would have created "military-style boot camps" as an alternative to prison for people convicted of marijuana offenses. Biden voted for many other anti-marijuana bills in the Senate, as Marijuana Moment reports, and was one of the first politicians to advocate for a national "drug czar," according to Leafly.
Michael Collins, director of national affairs at the pro-legalization group Drug Policy Action, told Rolling Stone that Biden is "the architect, in all ways, of the war on drugs," while NORML's executive director Erik Altieri said that Biden has "the worst record on cannabis related policy of any individual currently running for the Democratic or Republican nomination."
California Rep. Eric Swalwell
NORML gives Swalwell an A+ rating on marijuana, noting that he voted for the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017 and several other pieces of legislation that would remove barriers to accessing and researching marijuana. In 2013, Swalwell co-sponsored a bill to prevent the federal government from interfering with states that legalized marijuana; when such a provision was on California's ballot in 2016, Swalwell supported it before it passed, CalMatters reports.
Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet
Bennet, like Hickenlooper, opposed his state's successful 2012 effort to legalize marijuana, Huffington Post reported at the time. However, he's changed his position; Bennet co-sponsored the Marijuana Justice Act in 2019, and has voted for or co-sponsored several other bills aimed at reducing penalties for and access to marijuana during his time in Congress.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock
Bullock supports legalizing medical marijuana, which his state did in 2004. According to Marijuana Moment, he opposed a 2012 effort to repeal the state's medical marijuana law, pledging to ensure that "those in legitimate medical need get the opportunity to get medical marijuana, and those that don't are precluded from doing so." Bullock has a B grade from NORML.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
De Blasio has a somewhat complicated record on marijuana. Shortly after taking office, he instructed city police to stop arresting people for possession of 25 ounces or less of marijuana, and instead issue them summonses. However, that order had several exceptions, and a 2017 study from the Drug Policy Alliance found that marijuana possession arrests were higher under de Blasio than under former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
It's too soon to say how big of an issue marijuana will be in the 2020 primaries. But the vast majority of Democratic candidates seeking the nomination support legalizing the drug — and the ones who don't will almost certainly to face criticism from their opponents as the primary campaign progresses.
This report has been updated.