2020 Presidential Candidates on Marijuana
With support for marijuana legalization stronger than ever before, the issue of cannabis reform is slated to become a prominent issue in the 2020 presidential election.
Donald Trump, seeking a second term as President of the United States, is expected to earn the Republican party’s nomination. Trump has yet to take any notable actions related to marijuana, neither positive or negative, since taking office.
On the Democrat side, an abundance of declared primary candidates will battle in the primaries for their party’s nomination. Among Democratic voters, marijuana legalization has become a mainstream stance and politicians vying for their support have responded. So far, nearly every single declared Democratic presidential candidate has come out in support of either completely legalizing marijuana at the federal level, or descheduling it and leaving it up to the states.
Make informed choices by reviewing each candidate’s stance on marijuana legalization. Through the interactive tools below, you can quickly and easily sift through each candidate’s position on cannabis reform and any comments they’ve made about the issue. Click around the interactive graphic below to review each 2020 presidential candidate’s legislative support, public statements, and even tweets related to cannabis. Through the interactive timeline, you can click-and-drag and pinch-in and pinch-out zoom to discover when each candidate first made a pro-marijuana statement, first backed cannabis reform legislation, and any time there was a major development in their cannabis stance. Want to cut to the chase? A cannabis “temperature gauge” offers a quick-glance view of how strongly each candidate champions marijuana.
From now until the 2020 presidential election, this article will serve as home base for 2020 presidential candidates and their stance on federal marijuana policy. It will be regularly updated to reflect changes as presidential hopefuls enter and drop out of the race, as well as to document any shifts or major updates in cannabis views.
2020 Republican Party Nominees:
Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld became the first Republican to announce a 2020 primary challenge against Donald Trump. Weld, a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts during Ronald Reagan’s administration who was responsible for enforcing prohibition, claims he has supported the legalization of medical marijuana since 1992.
In 2016, Weld backed a recreational marijuana ballot initiative in his home state of Massachusetts while acknowledging that his acceptance of adult-use cannabis “represents something of a shift from what my position would have been in the past.” At the time, he said he was “not absolutely sure” whether he thought recreational marijuana should be legal nationwide.
Later that year, however, he partnered with Gary Johnson for a Libertarian presidential ticket run and pledged to end federal marijuana prohibition if elected. Today, he is on the board of directors for the cannabis investment firm Acreage Holdings with ex-speaker of the House John Boehner.
Weld apparently prefers to give states the right to decide how to handle marijuana policy. He has endorsed the STATES Act, a bill that would end federal prohibition so that states could legalize recreational or medical marijuana if they choose without fear of interference.
Former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh is challenging Donald Trump for the Republican nomination for president in 2020. Now a conservative talk host, Walsh served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives representing Illinois’ 8th congressional district from 2011 to 2013.
Walsh has made it clear through his comments on Twitter that he supports the full legalization of marijuana, both for recreational and medical use. In several instances, he has indicated that he believes marijuana should be legal for adults 21 like alcohol is. Walsh has also admitted to smoking marijuana in the past.
Throughout his time in Congress, Walsh did not sponsor or co-sponsor any cannabis reform legislation. In 2012, he did vote for an amendment that would shield medical marijuana states from federal interference.
President Donald Trump
The president has sent mixed signals about his position on marijuana. During his campaign for president in 2015, Donald Trump acknowledged the therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana but opposed the legalization of adult-use cannabis. “I think it’s bad,” he said after being asked for his thoughts on Colorado legalizing recreational marijuana, “and I feel strongly about that.”
Later in his campaign, however, he modified his position by stating that while he didn’t support recreational marijuana, he believed states should be allowed to legalize marijuana without federal interference. He continued to express support for the legalization of medical marijuana.
So far in his term, Trump has remained unclear in his intentions regarding cannabis reform. In December 2018, he did sign the 2018 Farm Bill, which included provisions to legalize hemp. He also said he would “probably” support the STATES Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Sens. Cory Gardner (R) of Colorado and Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts, that would allow states to write their own marijuana policies.
Despite Trump’s support of hemp and suggested a federalist approach to marijuana legalization, some in the industry remain skeptical considering he picked Jeff Sessions, a staunch marijuana opponent, as his first attorney general. Additionally, interviews and documents obtained by BuzzFeed News last year revealed the Trump Administration had been secretly coordinating a government-wide effort to portray marijuana legalization in a negative light.
Most recently, in signing a spending bill on February 15, 2019, Trump singled out an included provision that prevents the Justice Department from using funds to interfere with medical marijuana, stating that he “will treat this provision consistent with the President’s constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws of the United States.” In short, Trump was making it clear that he reserves the right to ignore the cannabis provision and interfere with state-legal marijuana. While that language could elicit concern, it’s important to note that he made a similar comment in May 2017 when signing that fiscal year’s appropriations bill into law, and yet no raids against state-legal medical marijuana patients or providers followed.
Multiple Republican lawmakers contend that Trump remains supportive of states making their own decisions about marijuana. Dana Rohrabacher, the former Representative from California, claims members within the Trump Administration reassured him they would take up federal cannabis reform following the midterm elections, but no actions have been made yet.
In the swollen field of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, support for some form of marijuana legalization is nearly universal. The one exception is former Vice President Joe Biden, who has a long history as a drug warrior in Congress and remains one of the very few prominent Democrats to not yet endorse any level of cannabis legalization.
A U.S. Senator from 1973 to 2009, Biden was a driving force behind America’s highly detrimental War on Drugs. From 1987 to 1995, he served as chair of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, and during that time championed laws that pushed for more arrests, more prisons, and more federal funding for anti-cannabis efforts.
Throughout his career in the Senate, Biden sponsored and consistently voted for increasingly heavy-handed drug legislation. He introduced a bill that greenlit civil asset forfeiture, eliminated the possibility of bail for individuals charged with certain drug crimes, and mandated that the Justice Department “aggressively” combat drug offenders.
He also filed legislation that called for the establishment of boot camp-type prisons for offenders who tested positive for a controlled substance during an arrest, required that people on probation or parole successfully pass a drug test prior to sentencing, and directed support to the movie and television industry for “anti-drug messages.”
Biden’s signature piece of crime legislation was the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, known more commonly as simply the “crime bill.” While the 1993 version of that bill that he filed was indefinitely postponed in the Senate, its House companion bill passed both chambers, earning Biden’s vote in the process, and was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. The wide-ranging anti-crime bill enhanced penalties for distributing drugs like cannabis, and amended the federal code to make drug-related murders punishable by death, among many other things.
In the 1980s Biden campaigned for legislation aimed at creating a “drug czar” to oversee and coordinate efforts to combat drug trafficking. This helped lead to the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 1989, which pushed for greater enforcement of anti-cannabis laws and resulted in more arrests. The drug czar’s office also pushed a number of anti-marijuana ad campaigns, contributing to misinformation on cannabis and misguided policies. That legislation would have also eradicated marijuana on Native American territory and expanded the authority of the Justice Department to seize assets in cannabis cases.
Biden also introduced a bill in 1989 that would have made the U.S. encourage the member states of the United Nations to up their seizures of substances like marijuana in exchange for having their debts partially forgiven. That same year, he filed legislation that treated juveniles convicted of drug offenses as adults, increased penalties for certain drug offenses that took place near schools, and called for the death penalty for anyone who committed murder while carrying out a federal drug offense. An amended version of that bill passed the Senate, with Biden’s vote.
Biden was also the chief sponsor of the Biden-Thurmond Violent Crime Control Act of 1991, which among other things prohibited people convicted of drug misdemeanors from purchasing firearms, and increased penalties for the use of cannabis and other Schedule I substances in public housing. He later voted in favor of an amended version of the bill.
Biden appears to also oppose marijuana being used for therapeutic purposes. In 2007, he acknowledged that ending raids on medical marijuana users was necessary, but that he believed that “there’s got to be a better answer than marijuana” for addressing health issues and symptoms. He voiced the long-debunked theory in 2010 that marijuana serves as a “gateway drug” to dangerous substances.
While nearly all of the 2020 Democratic candidates have evolved to embrace cannabis reform over the years, Biden does not appear to have reversed his stance on marijuana, although it may have softened a bit. In January 2019, Biden acknowledged his hard-line cannabis past caused some long-term harms, telling the National Action Network, “I haven’t always been right, but I’ve always tried.”
In May 2019, a spokesman for Biden’s presidential campaign clarified that Biden “does not believe anyone should be in jail simply for smoking or possession marijuana,” and that “he supports decriminalizing marijuana and automatically expunging prior criminal records for marijuana possession, so those affected don’t have to figure out how to petition for it or pay for a lawyer.”
Then, in July 2019, the former vice president released a wide-ranging criminal justice reform plan that calls for the decriminalization of marijuana and automatic expungements for those with previous cannabis possession convictions. During a Democratic debate in September 2019, however, Biden suggested that marijuana should be a misdemeanor.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren
While Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) says she has never smoked marijuana, she is arguably the most active and vocal of cannabis reform supporters in Congress. She is the lead sponsor on the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, a bill that would allow states to make their own cannabis policies without fear of federal interference. Warren has also co-sponsored at least six other major pieces of marijuana-related legislation, including bills to expand medical cannabis access to veterans and to protect banks that service the cannabis industry.
Warren is open about her evolving attitudes on cannabis. Initially, she was unenthusiastic about loosening cannabis policies and even declined to endorse the legalization ballot initiative in her hometown state of Massachusetts in 2016 (although she says she did vote in favor of it). Over recent years, she’s embraced legalization more fully and today regularly champions cannabis reform proposals. She hasn’t voted for cannabis legislation, but only because there have been no bills that have been brought to the floor of the Senate during her tenure.
In addition to introducing and co-sponsoring several marijuana bills, Warren has pressed federal officials to protect the cannabis industry. After former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded protections for marijuana in 2018, she spearheaded a letter to Donald Trump, encouraging him to direct the Justice Department to continue its hands-off approach. The year prior, Warren joined nine other senators in a letter to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, urging the bureau to not go after banks that service cannabis-related businesses in states where marijuana is legal.
In August 2019, Warren unveiled a plan to ensure that the federal government upholds its commitments to Native and indigenous peoples, which included protecting tribal marijuana programs from federal interference. That same month she released a criminal justice plan that involves legalizing marijuana.
Warren has said she’d prefer to have marijuana legalized federally, but would be open to working with Republicans to support a state-by-state legalization approach “if that’s the best we can do.”
Former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak has been very quiet on his stances regarding marijuana legalization and cannabis reform. During his time in Congress, between 2007 and 2011, Sestak never sponsored or co-sponsored any cannabis reform legislation.
Sestak did, however, vote in favor of an amendment that would protect medical marijuana states from interference by the Department of Justice.
Sestak has also suggested that federal laws should be changed to allow for easier research into psychoactive substances.
“Anti-drug laws should never be an impediment to sound scientific research, but especially not during a public health crisis such as this one,” he wrote on his official campaign website.
Additionally, Sestak on his campaign website suggests that the federal government should be taking a “multi-pronged approach to dealing with opioid addiction.” While Sestak hasn’t made it clear, his view of a multi-pronged approach may include increasing access to medical marijuana.
Known best as Oprah’s spiritual advisor, Marianne Willliamson has not been vocal about her stance on marijuana but has indicated that she “wholeheartedly” supports legalization. Her 2020 policy page does not include cannabis reform as an issue, but mass incarceration and criminal justice are prominently featured on her platform, suggesting she could be aware of the racial disparities associated with prohibition enforcement.
Williamson has never held political office, so she has not had the opportunity to introduce, co-sponsor, or vote for cannabis legislation.
Wayne Messam, who won a second term as mayor of Miramar, Florida in March 2019, has not made his stance on marijuana legalization clear. His 2020 campaign page does not include cannabis reform as one of his priorities.
Entrepreneur and businessman Andrew Yang has made legalizing marijuana a major component of his 2020 platform. Citing the “need to resolve the ambiguity” between state and federal marijuana laws and describing the criminalization of marijuana as “stupid and racist,” Yang has called for legalizing marijuana at the federal level.
On his 2020 policy page, Yang claims if elected President he would support the full legalization of marijuana, expunge federal convictions of offenses related to marijuana use or possession, and reduce punishments of non-violent drug offenders by offering probation or early release. In August 2019, he sent a fundraising email to his list promising, “On my first day as President, I will pardon every person imprisoned for a low-level, non-violent marijuana offense and I would high five them on their way out of jail.” His campaign is selling marijuana-themed merchandise, including a t-shirt, baseball cap, and bumper sticker.
Since Yang has not held political office, he has not had the opportunity yet to introduce, co-sponsor, or vote on cannabis legislation.
Former U.S. Senator from Alaska and 2008 presidential contender Mike Gravel is one of the most passionate pro-cannabis reform candidates. Gravel strongly supports the end of federal marijuana prohibition and the creation of a regulated retail market for cannabis.
Gravel, who has said he opposed marijuana being classified as a Schedule I substance in 1970 when the Controlled Substances Act passed, is the only presidential candidate to have actually worked in the cannabis industry. In 2014, Gravel was named CEO of a marijuana company that produces cannabis products for both recreational and medical use.
A U.S. Senator from 1969 to 1981, Gravel was in office long before cannabis reform efforts took hold and has therefore never introduced or co-sponsored any marijuana legalization bills. He did vote “no” on the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which categorized cannabis as a Schedule I substance, the most restrictive category reserved for the most dangerous substances.
Still, in terms of cannabis reform, Gravel was ahead of his time. Cannabis legalization was part of his platform when he ran for president in 2008. In May 2010, Gravel acknowledged having eaten marijuana edibles when he was younger, but that he “never got a high out of it.” His enthusiasm for marijuana reform has not waned. In 2019, Gravel celebrated the unofficial cannabis holiday of April 20 by releasing a campaign video calling to “end the War on Drugs.”
In July 2019, Gravel proposed a constitutional amendment to remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances and legalize it recreationally on the federal level.
Gravel has indicated he has no real intention of winning the Democratic nomination for president. Instead, he hopes to qualify for debates to help push the other nominees toward more progressive stances, including those related to cannabis legalization, and then drop out with an endorsement of another candidate.
Gov. Steve Bullock
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is not a vocal supporter of broad marijuana reform, and has not been clear as to whether he supports the legalization of recreational marijuana. However, he has said he voted “yes” to approve medical marijuana in Montana in 2004, and throughout his six years as governor has made several efforts to protect the state’s medical marijuana program and signed legislation aimed at more effectively regulating the industry.
As governor in 2015, Bullock signed into law House Bill 463, which requires police to obtain a conviction prior to seizing the assets of property owners accused of drug-related offenses. In May 2017, he signed Senate Bill 333, imposing additional regulations on the state’s medical marijuana market, including a quarterly tax on cannabis businesses. In May 2019, he signed Senate Bill 265 to allow Montana residents to buy their medical marijuana from multiple dispensaries, rather than be limited to only one.
While attorney general and campaigning for governor in 2012, Bullock vocally opposed a Montana law that repealed the medical marijuana ballot initiative with a stricter program that prohibited licensed sales and instead required patients or caregivers to grow their own cannabis.
Bullock has also made efforts to stand up for the rights of medical marijuana users to possess firearms. In 2011, he wrote a letter to then-Attorney General Eric Holder, claiming that a Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) memo disqualifying patients from owning guns “implicates serious legal issues under the Second Amendment.”
After a Montana Supreme Court ruling upheld the new strict regulations of the state’s medical marijuana industry, Bullock criticized it, saying in a statement that he was “concerned about the ability of thousands of patients with serious medical conditions to access a treatment that has been approved by their doctors.”
In April 2017, after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department indicated a crackdown on state-legal marijuana programs, Bullock criticized the behavior, arguing that Sessions “is dang near a decade late.”
Outside of discussing his letter to Holder in a Facebook post, Bullock has remained quiet on social media about his stances on cannabis.
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has remained relatively quiet on his cannabis views. However, he has come out in support of marijuana legalization, which he sees as critical for social justice. In February 2019, he told the Boston Globe that “the safe, regulated, and legal sale of marijuana is an idea whose time has come for the United States.”
At SXSW in March 2019, Buttigieg shared a story of being caught with a marijuana joint while in college by a police officer. Buttigieg said that the police officer having let him off with just a berating, when others would have faced more serious, lifelong consequences due to racial disparities in enforcement, has informed his position on cannabis reform.
Throughout his time as mayor, Buttigieg has not had the opportunity to sign any legislation directly related to cannabis. He did approve an ordinance in 2017 that prohibited the sale of synthetic marijuana, which are dangerous laboratory-produced chemicals that are not marijuana at all and are not meant for human consumption.
Buttigieg had long been quiet on cannabis reform, indicating early on that he didn’t intend to make the legalization issue central to his campaign. However, in July 2019, he announced a major marijuana reform plan called the Douglass Plan, which would legalize marijuana, expunge past convictions, and eliminate jail time for possession. His comments acknowledging the racial injustices of prohibition and support for legalizing at least indicates he wouldn’t prohibit reform efforts from advancing. In August 2019, Buttigieg pledged to decriminalize the possession of all drugs, including marijuana, in his first term if elected president.
Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro has made very few statements related to his views on cannabis. However, in April 2019 during a CNN town hall, Castro came out in support of full marijuana legalization and argued that the records of those previously imprisoned for using marijuana should be expunged. In February 2014, when he was San Antonio mayor, Castro was asked about his stance on legalizing marijuana and responded that he was still undecided.
Castro has also criticized the Donald Trump Administration for signaling it would crack down on state-legal cannabis operations. In 2017, he took to Twitter and Facebook to refer to the White House suggesting it would interfere in recreational marijuana “a mistake.” In early 2018, he also retweeted a post on Twitter that included the statement: “Legalizing marijuana must include a push for restorative justice.” This social media activity could suggest that Castro at minimum believes states should have the right to legalize cannabis as they see fit.
Rep. Tim Ryan
While longtime U.S. House Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) was initially reluctant to get behind marijuana legalization, he has since called for marijuana to be legal in all 50 states. Arguing that illegal marijuana is both “morally wrong” and “economically nonsensical,” Ryan in 2018 wrote a highly-circulated pro-cannabis opinion piece for CNN in which he described coming around to legalization after witnessing the harms of prohibition.
In that CNN op-ed, Ryan also announced he was co-sponsoring the House version of the Marijuana Justice Act, a bill that would remove marijuana’s designation as a Schedule I substance while incentivizing states to stop enforcing marijuana laws disproportionately. He also co-sponsored the STATES Act, a bill to give individual states full reign over how they regulate marijuana, and the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which would legalize and regulate cannabis at the federal level.
While serving Ohio’s 13th district for nearly two decades, Ryan also has many times voted in favor of amendments aimed at protecting legal cannabis operations, including two measures to shield states with legal medical marijuana from federal interference, as well as a more far-reaching proposal that protects both medical and recreational marijuana states. He also voted ‘yes’ to an amendment that would allow doctors with Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to veterans, and in separate proposals helped protect hemp and CBD programs with his vote.
Besides his CNN opinion piece, Ryan remains relatively quiet on his advocacy for cannabis reform. Any tweets and public statements he’s made regarding cannabis appear to have been announcing his sponsorship of reform-related legislation.
Like most Democrats running for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination, former U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) would like to reform federal marijuana laws. He has not, however, been as outspoken regarding marijuana reform since announcing his campaign and has not endorsed full marijuana legalization. Instead, his office has said he “supports removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, allowing states to set their own policy on legalization, and implementing sweeping federal regulatory policies and taxation on its use.”
Delaney proved to be a supporter of cannabis reform during his time as U.S. Representative for Maryland’s 6th congressional district between 2013 and 2019. He co-sponsored seven different bills related to cannabis, including bills that would protect patients and individuals participating in their state’s legal medical marijuana program. He also backed a bill to shield banks that work with marijuana businesses, and signed onto legislation that would remove CBD from the Controlled Substances Act.
Whenever given the opportunity, Delaney voted in favor of amendments aimed at allowing state-legal marijuana programs to operate without federal intervention. He also voted ‘yes’ on a measure protecting CBD-only states, and a wide-encompassing amendment that protects all legal marijuana states from interference by the Justice Department. The former congressman also voted in favor of amendments to give veterans legal access to medical marijuana and to eliminate federal restrictions on hemp.
Most of Delaney’s support for cannabis reform has primarily come from his legislative actions. He’s remained relatively quiet on his stance on cannabis and rarely addresses the issue in public comments and on social media. He did, however, speak out after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that directed prosecutors to not prioritize cannabis cases.
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke has made it clear that marijuana reform is a central issue in his effort to seize the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Only hours after announcing his candidacy, O’Rourke spoke to a crowd in Iowa about the importance of reforming the nation’s cannabis laws. He officially endorsed legalizing marijuana nationwide and expunging all previous marijuana convictions in a March 2018 email to supporters.
O’Rourke has been a supporter of marijuana legalization throughout his entire political career. In 2009, as a member of the El Paso City Council, O’Rourke called for “an honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition of narcotics.”
During his five-year tenure in Congress, he co-sponsored several cannabis reform bills, including legislation to end marijuana prohibition and to protect states with legal marijuana from federal interference. He also backed a bill that automatically sealed criminal records of people convicted for non-violent federal marijuana offenses. A bill that allowed students to still receive federal financial aid even after a cannabis possession conviction also garnered his signature. O’Rourke also co-sponsored bills aimed at expanding research into medical marijuana and to allow doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical cannabis to veterans.
While in the U.S. House, O’Rourke voted ‘yes’ multiple times for floor amendments that protected states with medical marijuana laws from federal enforcement, and for a wider amendment that also applied to states with recreational marijuana or CBD-only laws. He also voted in favor of amendments to legalize hemp and one aimed at allowing banks to service marijuana businesses.
O’Rourke was also the lead sponsor of the Better Drive Act, which would prohibit the federal government from withholding funds for highway infrastructure if a state fails to revoke or suspend drivers’ licenses of people convicted of drug offenses.
In his pursuit of cannabis reform, O’Rourke signed a bipartisan letter in 2014 urging President Barack Obama to unschedule marijuana. In a separate letter two years later, he and colleagues called on Obama to push for an end to the War on Drugs at a United Nations General Assembly Special Session. In 2016, he also circulated a petition imploring Congress to expand medical cannabis access to veterans.
In September 2019, O’Rourke proposed ‘justice’ grants for people formerly incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana offenses. The proposed grants, part of O’Rourke’s plan to federally legalize marijuana, would be funded by a federal tax on the legal cannabis industry.
Rather than leave it up to individual states to fix, O’Rourke believes in the need for federal legislation to truly end the War on Drugs. He regularly talks about the need to legalize marijuana in interviews, social media posts, and road trip videos.
Sen Amy Klobuchar
While Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) hasn’t been particularly outspoken about her stance on marijuana, she has regularly supported cannabis reform legislation introduced by her colleagues. Only recently did she come out in full support of legalizing recreational marijuana at the federal level, and the announcement came in the form of a fairly muted statement.
Like many of the other Democratic nominees, Klobuchar’s stance on marijuana has evolved over time. In a 1998 debate for Hennepin County attorney, she voiced opposition to the legalization of marijuana. She once held a D rating from the marijuana advocacy organization NORML, indicating a “hard on drugs stance,” but has since upped her grade to a B during her time in the Senate.
Klobuchar may not spearhead cannabis reform efforts, but she has backed at least four pieces of marijuana-related legislation introduced by her colleagues in the Senate. She is a co-sponsor of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s STATES Act, a bill that permits states to freely legalize marijuana, as well as the MEDS Act, which encourages more research into cannabis.
In 2018, when it was revealed that the Justice Department may be blocking marijuana research efforts by slowing the approval of applications to grow research-grade cannabis, Klobuchar joined seven other senators in a letter demanding answers on the delay.
Unlike most of her Democratic Senate colleagues running for president, however, Klobuchar has not yet signed onto Sen. Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act. The bill would deschedule cannabis, allowing states to legalize marijuana while withholding funding from states that discriminate in their cannabis enforcement.
Sen Kamala Harris
Today, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) not only supports legalizing and regulating marijuana at the federal level, but believes that nonviolent marijuana-related offenses should be expunged from the records of those who have been arrested and incarcerated.
While Harris is now a strong supporter of full legalization, her views on marijuana have changed over the years. She voiced opposition to legalization in 2010 while serving as the District Attorney of San Francisco, then expressed support for legalizing medical marijuana five years later at the California Democrats Convention. As of recently, she expanded her support to recreational use as well, and has signed on as a co-sponsor of Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act, a bill that would legalize marijuana federally and incentivize states to address the harms prohibition has had on marginalized communities.
In July 2019, Harris with U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10) introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, a comprehensive marijuana reform bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge prior convictions, and fund grants aimed at correcting historical injustices that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities.
Harris’ evolution on marijuana could be related to her recent job change. As California’s attorney general, Harris may have been hesitant to share her opinions if they conflicted with current law. Harris first publicly embraced complete legalization in 2018, in her second year as a Senator of California.
Since coming around to recreational use, Harris has been full steam ahead in her reform efforts. Besides the Marijuana Justice Act, she’s also backed the SAFE Banking Act, a bill to protect banks that provide accounts, loans, and other financial services to legally-operating cannabis businesses. In July 2019, Harris introduced the Fair Chance at Housing Act of 2019, which would protect individuals with low-level cannabis convictions from being denied access to or evicted from government-supported housing. Harris also joined Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah in a letter to Jeff Sessions, then U.S. Attorney General, urging him to stop blocking cannabis research. Since taking office as U.S. Senator, Harris has not had the opportunity to vote for any major marijuana reform legislation, but did vote ‘yes’ on the 2018 Farm Bill to legalize hemp.
In September 2019, Harris proposed a criminal justice plan that involves legalizing marijuana at the federal level, supporting states in legalizing marijuana, expunging convictions and reinvesting in communities impacted by prohibition.
Harris has admitted to smoking marijuana in the past. In her book released in January 2019, she acknowledged marijuana’s potential for creating impaired driving issues and discussed the need for a reliable breathalyzer equivalent.
Sen. Cory Booker
Since announcing his candidacy, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has put marijuana legalization at the center of his platform. Launching his campaign in an interview on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Booker right away pushed his support for cannabis reform, citing the need for “equal justice under the law.”
At the heart of Booker’s support for marijuana is the racially disproportionate manner in which marijuana laws are enforced. As a result, he’s introduced some of the most daring marijuana legislation seen in Congress. In March 2019, he joined Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) in introducing the Next Step Act, a sweeping criminal justice bill that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana, expunge records, and reduce harsh mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses.
While Booker strongly supports marijuana legalization, he has made it clear that he will not support legislation that does not also address the impact of the War on Drugs, which disproportionately impacted minority communities.”I really believe that at this point, it must contain justice components,” he said in an April 2019 interview with NJ Cannabis Insider.
In 2017, Booker introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, a wide-reaching bill that would not only end federal prohibition on marijuana, but also encourage states to legalize the substance and penalize those that display marijuana-related incarceration rates that are racially disparate. He reintroduced a new version of the bill in 2018.
Building on his marijuana justice-focused presidential campaign, in June 2019 Booker unveiled his “Restorative Justice Initiative,” a plan that would commute sentences for thousands of people serving time in federal prison for nonviolent marijuana-related convictions. In the plan, Booker says if elected president he will immediately exercise his powers to grant clemency to such individuals.
Booker in 2015 also introduced the CARERS Act, which would protect medical marijuana patients and businesses from federal intervention and encourage more research by requiring the Drug Enforcement Administration to license additional marijuana cultivators. Years later, he reintroduced the bill with bipartisan support.
A consistent critic of the War on Drugs, Booker has also co-sponsored bills to protect states with legal marijuana and banks that work with legally-operating cannabis businesses.
Booker, the former mayor of Newark, New Jersey mayor, also came to the defense of legal marijuana states in 2017 after Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary at the time, suggested the federal government may impose a crackdown. He and 10 colleague senators responded with a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, urging the Justice Department to back off. When Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, an Obama-era guidance document directing prosecutors to not prioritize marijuana enforcement, Booker condemned the move in a speech on the Senate floor.
Additionally, he put his name on a separate 2017 letter to Sessions, imploring the attorney general to not reverse Obama-era policies directing prosecutors to not pursue long mandatory-minimum prison sentences against low-level drug offenders. Booker also joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers in a letter to Congressional leadership, requesting they support a provision that would expand medical cannabis access to veterans.
Booker has publicly voiced frustration over the War on Drugs for more than 11 years. He still speaks frequently of his advocacy for marijuana reform, regularly citing the consequences of prohibition and the need for legalization with restorative justice. As Senator for New Jersey, he has not had the opportunity to vote for any marijuana-related legislation.
Sen. Bernie Sanders
Throughout his long political career, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has fought relentlessly for cannabis policy reform. As expected, Sanders reiterated his support for full marijuana legalization in his presidential candidate announcement video, arguing that the federal government “needs to end the destructive War on Drugs.” In a wide-ranging interview with Joe Rogan on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast in August 2019, Sanders said if elected he would legalize marijuana by executive order.
Sanders also unveiled a criminal justice reform plan in August 2019 that includes proposals to legalize marijuana and expunge past cannabis-related convictions.
Sanders, who has said he’s smoked marijuana decades ago but that the plant “didn’t do a whole lot” for him, has backed a number of cannabis reform bills in Congress, both during his time in the House and throughout his Senate tenure. Most recently, he signed on as co-sponsor of Sen. Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act to permit states to legalize cannabis as they see fit, while punishing those states with discriminatory enforcement practices. Prior to that, he supported the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that would decriminalize marijuana under federal law.
Fighting for cannabis legalization before nearly every other lawmaker, Sanders introduced the first-ever Senate bill to end federal cannabis prohibition, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015. No other senators backed his bill at the time. Twenty years prior, Sanders-backed a House bill to legalize and regulate marijuana under federal law. He also made the legalization of cannabis a central issue in his campaign for president in 2016 and was the first major presidential candidate to ever endorse marijuana legalization. During his 16 years in the U.S. House, Sanders has voted in favor of amendments that protected legal medical marijuana states from federal intervention several times.
Sanders is an outspoken supporter of marijuana reform and regularly discusses the issue on social media, in speeches, and during debates. He’s regularly argued that marijuana should not be classified as a Schedule I substance like heroin and more dangerous substances, that prohibition disproportionately impacts black Americans, and that non-violent cannabis conviction should not upend lives. When the Justice Department under Donald Trump started to dismantle guidelines on federal marijuana enforcement priorities, Sanders publicly criticized the moves.
Sen. Michael Bennet
While Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado initially opposed his state’s 2012 marijuana legalization ballot initiative, he has since taken up efforts to push cannabis reform under federal law.
As Senator, Bennet has co-sponsored several wide-reaching cannabis reform bills, including the Marijuana Justice Act, which would federally unscheduled cannabis and penalize states that enforce marijuana laws in a discriminatory way. He also backed the STATES Act, which would protect states that legalized marijuana by amending the Controlled Substances Act. Bennet also signed onto the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, a bill that would unschedule marijuana, as well as the CARERS Act, a piece of legislation that would shield medical marijuana states from federal enforcement.
The Colorado senator has also several times supported legislation aimed at providing banking access to the cannabis industry. He co-sponsored the SAFE Act, which would protect banks that service marijuana businesses, and at one time signed onto an amendment to an addiction recovery bill that would have allowed for marijuana banking.
Bennet has also several times signed his name to letters to officials pushing for marijuana reform. In 2014, he sent a letter to the head of the IRS requesting that the department refrains from charging a 10 percent tax to marijuana businesses for paying employee withholding taxes in cash. That same year, he and three other senators wrote a letter asking the Barack Obama administration to provide guidance on federal marijuana policy so that state-legal operations like that of Colorado could operate freely. Two years later, Bennet joined colleagues in signing a letter directed to the country’s top federal financial regulators, urging them to provide clarity to banks interested in servicing state-legal cannabis businesses.
Bennet was also vocal in January 2018 after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy directing federal prosecutors to not prioritize federal marijuana enforcement. He wrote a letter to Sessions, telling him his decision “completely disregards the steps the state of Colorado has taken to regulate legal marijuana dispensaries and retail stores.” Along with 17 other senators, he also sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee regarding the issue, requesting that it respect state laws related to the legalization and regulation of marijuana.
After a BuzzFeed News report revealed that the Trump administration had been secretly preparing a fight against legal marijuana, Bennet wrote a letter to the acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy expressing concern over the administration “cherry-picking data to support pre-ordained and misinformed conclusions on marijuana,” and an “intentional effort to mislead the American people.”
Prior to hemp being legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, Bennet pushed for the non-intoxicating cannabis plant to be legal as an agricultural crop. He also introduced a bill to give hemp farmers access to federally controlled water. In June 2019, Bennet wrote to federal financial regulators, urging them to provide updated guidance on how banks can service hemp businesses, including farmers and processors.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
Since assuming her position in Congress in 2013, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) has regularly pushed for major cannabis reform and been vocal in her cannabis advocacy. She has consistently voted in favor of marijuana amendments on the House floor, including two measures aimed at protecting states with legalized medical marijuana, and a separate, broader proposal to shield all marijuana states.
In 2018, Gabbard introduced the Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act, a landmark bill that would decriminalize marijuana and remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act entirely so that states could regulate the substance as they choose. The year before, when the bill was initially introduced and Gabbard backed it as a co-sponsor, she delivered a passionate speech on the floor of the U.S. House, urging her colleagues to support it. Gabbard also introduced the Marijuana Data Collection Act, a bill that would require the federal government to study the effects of marijuana legalization.
In July 2019, Gabbard filed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, a comprehensive marijuana reform bill that decriminalizes marijuana under federal law, expunges prior convictions, and funds grants aimed at correcting historical injustices that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities.
Having served in a medical unit in the Hawaii Army National Guard, Gabbard has also actively supported several pieces of legislation aimed at expanding medical cannabis access to veterans. Also, in her six years in Congress, she’s voted in favor of three separate amendments that would allow veterans to obtain recommendations for medical marijuana through their VA physician.
In addition to her legislative efforts to support cannabis reform, Gabbard also regularly releases pro-cannabis statements and social media posts. After the governor of Hawaii vetoed state legislation that would allow medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of opioid addiction and other substance use disorders, Gabbard publicly criticized the decision.
Tom Steyer is a former hedge fund manager and environmental advocate who has not been very open about his stance on marijuana.
In August 2018, however, Steyer told The Las Vegas Sun that he supports legalization. In that same interview, he touted the importance of clearing up the marijuana banking issue, and said that prohibition prevents him from financing cannabis businesses through a community bank he founded.
Steyer has also contributed to campaigns aimed at criminal justice reform, including a 2016 California ballot initiative that would provide “parole considerations for nonviolent felons,” including those convicted of nonviolent cannabis offenses.
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Source: Medical Marijuana