Analysis

“Jeb Kush”: How the Presidential Candidates Compare on Marijuana

Jeb Bush tweeted this out when he admitted on national television that he had previously smoked pot during one of the best exchanges of the first Republican Debate way back in September of 2015. Former candidate Sen. Rand Paul had not so subtly called out Bush for his hypocritical marijuana policies, claiming that wealthy people like Bush who smoked pot in high school would never get caught by the police as opposed to their poorer counterparts. The legalization of marijuana remains a relatively small issue in the 2016 election, having only been mentioned sparingly during a few debates, but the subject provides an interesting point to read how each party is adjusting to rapid shifts in public opinion. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how each remaining candidate would address this issue.

Hillary Clinton

Clinton has softened her views on marijuana from the past and has said that she would like the drug to be reclassified from Schedule I to II in order to remove the barriers around the research of its medical benefits. She supports the medical use of marijuana and would not want the federal government to interfere with states that adopt legalization laws. She also believes that people should not be imprisoned for marijuana use. It is unclear whether or not she supports the full legalization of recreational marijuana; she often states that the country should wait to see the effects of the policies in states like Colorado and Washington.

“I think that states are the laboratories of democracy, and four states have already taken action to legalize, and it will be important that other states and the federal government take account of how that’s being done, what we learn from what they’re doing.” –WBZ NewsRadio, Jan 25, 2016.

Bernie Sanders

Sanders has repeatedly and forcefully advocated for the full legalization of medical and recreational marijuana. He focuses on the disproportionate effects of the War on Drugs on minority communities and the role marijuana has played in the skyrocketing number of arrests. In 2015 he proposed legislation which would remove the drug from the federal drug schedules completely and let states regulate its use with methods similar to how they regulate alcohol; the legislation also proposed benefits to marijuana businesses such as access to bank accounts and tax deductions, which are currently denied to these businesses under federal law. Sanders stands alongside former candidate Rand Paul for being the strongest advocate for legalization.

“Someone in the United States is arrested every minute on marijuana charges. Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That’s wrong. That has got to change.” –Sanders Campaign Website, Oct 28, 2015

Donald Trump

It’s hard to find a position or issue on which Trump hasn’t vacillated during his public career, and marijuana is no exception. He was for the full legalization of all drugs in 1990, but has recently come to favor a more state-by-state approach. He fully supports medical marijuana, but has provided little to say one way or the other about legalization.

“In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state. … Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should happen — right? Don’t we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.” – Washington Post, Oct 29, 2015

Ted Cruz

Cruz is personally opposed to recreational marijuana, but has said that he would not interfere with individual state policy concerning the matter. Cruz and Clinton both like to use the phrase “laboratories of democracy” to describe the varying state laws on legalization. Cruz has criticized the Obama administration in the past for not enforcing the federal laws against marijuana in states like Colorado and Washington.

“I actually think this is a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called the laboratories of democracy. If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”- CPAC, Feb 26, 2015

John Kasich

Kasich has consistently expressed opposition to both the recreational and medical uses of marijuana. While he has claimed that he would not challenge state laws regulating such use, he has also claimed that if elected President, he would like to lead a campaign to “stomp drugs out of our country.” Seen as the most moderate Republican candidate on most issues, his personal opposition to marijuana may win him the title of being the most hostile candidate to legalization out of the candidates still running.

“I feel very strongly in my state, I’m going to oppose, and they’re going to put something on the ballot to legalize drugs. I’m totally opposed to it, because it is a scourge in this country…In my state and across this country, if I happened to be president, I would lead a significant campaign down at the grassroots level to stomp these drugs out of our country.” – HughHewitt.com, Apr 21, 2015.


The fact that Democrats tend to support legalization more than their Republican peers should come as no surprise. Democrats tend to focus on the effects of the War on Drugs on minority (mainly African-American) communities, while Republicans see marijuana as more of a states’ rights issue. None of the candidates still running advocate for a federal crackdown on states with recreational or medical usage laws, and this might be a wise move politically. Legalization enjoys majority support among the public, and even Millennial Republicans favor legalization by 63%. Americans tend to also view marijuana as less harmful than alcohol both in personal and societal use, and 76% think that the possession of small amounts of marijuana should not lead to jail time. For those one-issue voters who wish to see the full legalization of marijuana, their best bet would be to vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders. Those not wishing to see the country become like Colorado are better off voting for either Sen. Cruz or Gov. Kasich.


This article was written by Daniel Muehring. Click here to see more of Daniel’s work.

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