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Vote With Knowledge: 2016 Presidential Candidates and Their Stances on Cannabis

At least a dozen Republicans and a handful of Democrats have expressed an interest in running for their party’s 2016 presidential nomination. A growing majority of voters support marijuana reform and the 2016 presidential candidates will not be able to avoid or dismiss the issues. Law and regulatory enforcement, criminal justice, banking and financial regulations, small business policies, federal research policies, medical and pharmaceutical policies, agriculture and commerce, state-federal relations and privacy issues surrounding legalization pose a need for a leader that can break down silos and deal with these serious issues. As such, whom voters choose in the next presidential cycle could have an enormous impact on how the federal government views cannabis in the coming years.

As the nation gets closer and closer to bringing federal law into line with what the strong majority of Americans already support, it makes good political sense for candidates to take a stance on the subject. In the months ahead, it will be interesting to see who steps up to show their support. In the meantime, you would do well to research the candidates and find out how they really feel about cannabis. So without further adieu, here is a helpful list to get you started:


Hillary Clinton

hillary“I didn’t do it [cannabis] when I was young, I’m not going to start now.” – Hillary Clinton

Being labeled the Democratic front-runner, especially with millenials, Clinton is favored due to her views on many issues. But, when it comes to cannabis legalization, Clinton falls short, even with millenials.

Although she appears to have evolved on the issue, from her belief several years ago that drug cartels are an issue that needs to be addressed before the federal government can do much towards medical legalization to her most recent statement, “I think we need to be very clear about the benefits of marijuana use for medicinal purposes. I don’t think we’ve done enough research yet, although I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions and have anecdotal evidence that it works, there should be availability under appropriate circumstances.” Clinton clearly has not taken a firm position on this very crucial issue. Her 2016 presidential campaign has also received flak for being backed by either Wall Street banks or lobbying firms and institutions that have some of the worst favorability ratings in the country.

Bernie Sanders

bernie sanders“I smoked marijuana twice, didn’t quite work for me. … It’s not my thing, but it is the thing of a whole lot of people.” – Bernie Sanders

Sanders is a self-described “Democratic Socialist” who is running for the Democratic nomination. His home state of Vermont has already embraced legalization. So, does Sanders have the same passion for cannabis as his home state? When asked in an interview what he thinks about the trend of marijuana legalization, he replied “It is a trend, but I think it has a lot of political support from young people especially. It probably will continue to move forward. Colorado led the way. Other states I expect will follow. I have supported the increased use of marijuana for medical purposes, and I can tell you when I was Mayor of the City of Burlington, which includes the University of Vermont, I don’t recall that anybody was arrested for marijuana use.” When asked what kind of debate the party needs and how to go about it, he answered, “[there] is the need to wage a political revolution in this country which brings millions of people into the political process to stand up and fighting for their rights in a way that we have not seen right now.” His supporters are loyal and “warn” not to underestimate him.

Martin O’Malley

martin o'malley“It may be a gateway to even more harmful behavior… I’m not much in favor of it.” – Martin O’Malley

Some are calling him a long shot. O’Malley claims he is running to win and nothing less. MotherJones suggests that “Clinton needs a foil in the Democratic primaries—someone she can joust with, someone who will expand the narrative, and someone she can beat” and suggests that O’Malley “would make a good sparring partner.”

As the former-Governor of Maryland, O’Malley is getting a lot of buzz around the bills he’s signed declaring medical marijuana legal and decriminalizing marijuana possession in the state, as well as overseeing an initiative making medical marijuana available to a defined group of patients in 2013 (although just a year earlier he said he would oppose the initiative). On the day of signing the decriminalization bill, he was quoted as saying, “I still don’t support Maryland being one those states that serves as a laboratory for legalization of marijuana.”

O’Malley is pitching hard to the Tech-savvy Generation, but discovered recently on Reddit that mixing old-school politics and social media can be a brutal experience. During his session, O’Malley wrote in response to a marijuana question: “I signed decriminalization for small amounts of possession this year, signed medical marijuana last year, and another medical marijuana bill this year. I believe it’s best for Maryland to learn from experiments underway in Colorado and Washington and to be guided according to whether more good than harm is done.” This is far from a declaration to support a cannabis culture.

Lincoln Chafee

lincoln chafee“During the next weeks and months, I look forward to sharing my thoughts about the future of our great country.” – Lincoln Chafee

At least Chafee’s stance on marijuana is not as equally confusing as his political career. He began as a Republication, switched to Independent, and is now a Democrat. In 2011, he and then Washington governor Chris Gregoire filed a petition asking the U.S. DEA to reclassify marijuana to allow for medical use. In 2012, as governor of Rhode Island, he signed a bill decriminalizing possession for smaller amounts of marijuana. Last year during an appearance on HuffPost Live, Chafee said, “Let’s take it step by step on full legalization of marijuana, though; we want to see how it’s working in Colorado.”

Chafee believes he is the better candidate because his campaign will be based on “high ethical standards” and a “vision for the future.” But to be considered a rival, he will need to overcome many obstacles.


Why are there so many Republicans throwing their hats in the ring? There are many reasons why the 2016 race has attracted so many to the run for the White House.

  • No incumbent president or sitting vice-president.
  • A running-mate slot or Cabinet position can be a good consolation prize.
  • A national campaign can bring fame and money to a candidate’s life–books, TV deals, speaking engagements.
  • Unlike the dominance of Clinton in the Democratic race, there is no strong front-runner amongst the GOP candidates.
  • The party is very divided on policy and some of the candidates have specific issues or agendas they are passionate about advocating.
  • The political process is awash in money. Front-runners are no longer the only ones able to raise money.

Quinnipiac University’s latest presidential poll released May 28, 2015, finds that there are five leaders or no leaders amongst the GOP candidates. Leading the pack with 10 percent each are Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker.

Jeb Bush

jeb“I thought it was a bad idea, but the states ought to have the right to do it. I would have voted no if I was in Colorado.” – Jeb Bush

Jeb (actually John Ellis Bush – J.E.B.) is the third child of George and Barbara. He is a lead contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and it is no surprise that he has a fundraising network unmatched by that of any of the GOP candidates. But, it is safe to say that the former governor of Florida will not be supporting the legalization of cannabis, for medicinal or recreational use. Many are calling his anti-marijuana stance hypocritical. A former classmate says he remembers Bush cranking up Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” on the stereo while they got stoned. Bush admits to using marijuana and other mind-altering substances in his past and says that “it was pretty common,” but his opposition on legalization throughout the course of his political career has been consistent.

He staunchly opposed measures that would have legalized medical marijuana in Florida, saying “allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter” to the state’s efforts to boost tourism and a business-friendly environment. The amendment would have allowed doctors to recommend medical marijuana to people with “debilitating” medical conditions.

Clinton and Bush are basically the same presidential candidate, which means there is no doubt that this will be a corporate-funded presidential election. This presidential cycle is predicted to run up a tab in the ballpark of five billion dollars, more than double that of the last cycle.

Ben Carson

ben“It tends to be a starter drug for people who move onto heavier duty drugs – sometimes legal, sometimes illegal – I don’t think this is something that we really want for our society.” – Ben Carson

A neurosurgeon by trade; the youngest head of a major division of Johns Hopkins; the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins; a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient; designated as a Living Legend by the Library of Congress; and over 50 honorary degrees. He is the author of six books, including his best-selling memoir, “Gifted Hands,” which follows his life leading up to his successful separation of the conjoined twins and became the basis for a 2009 movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as Carson. He credits his mother and the Bible for where he is today. If only his political achievements were as impressive. He has never run for elected office and entered politics just two years ago. At his launch event in Detroit, Carson said, “I’m not a politician,” and “I don’t want to be a politician because politicians do what is politically expedient. I want to do what’s right.”

“Being president,” Carson says, “ain’t exactly brain surgery.” It doesn’t take a brain surgeon either to figure out Carson’s stance on cannabis. Carson told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado should be concerning for Americans, as it is a gateway drug to more dangerous substances. During a FoxNews interview when asked what he thought about the laws legalizing marijuana, Carson replied, “I don’t think this is something we really want for our society. You know, we’re gradually removing all the barriers to hedonistic activity.” As a physician, he claims to be passionate about issues relating to health, but his view on legalization shows anything but passion for cannabis and its medicinal applications. If he survives the run without any missteps, he can still emerge a winner by building on his impressive accolades by commanding additional books deals and paid speeches.

Mike Huckabee

ben huckabee“I think the question is, would I favor the legalization at a federal level, and until there’s some scientific evidence, I’m reluctant to do that.” – Mike Huckabee

Huckabee, in his second run for President, wants to take us “from hope to higher ground.” His 2008 showing was respectable, but he struggled to raise money and failed to rally support outside the party’s evangelical base. Huckabee is not shy about voicing his dedication to religion. Despite his popularity with the religious right, his controversial history makes it nearly impossible for him to appeal to the masses.

He does not appeal to the majority who support legalization either. He makes no secret of the fact that he is against it. Writing in a Facebook post last March, Huckabee conveyed his thoughts on the tax revenues from legalizing marijuana, “what is a young person supposed to think when the state says, “Don’t do drugs…even though everyone around you is…and the same authority figures who tell you it’s bad not only condone it, but are also making a big profit off it?”

Huckabee will probably be strong enough to win over some conservative voters, but not strong enough to have a high chance of winning. Fortunately for him, like many of the other candidates, he has written and co-authored several books, and could add another book or two to his credit. Who knows maybe Fox News will even take him back.

Marco Rubio

marco rubio“…the bottom line is, I believe that adding yet another mind-altering substance to something that’s legal is not good for the country. I understand there are people that have different views on it, but I feel strongly about that.” – Marco Rubio

Rubio, a younger first-term senator who won his seat with the help of grassroots, tea party-inspired support, is slowly emerging to become a favorite. Florida billionaire Norman Braman has stepped forward claiming, “Marco Rubio will have the resources necessary to run a first-class campaign, that’s already been determined.” Braman, a former Bush supporter is now one of Rubio’s biggest supporters.

“When something is legal, implicitly, what you’re saying [is] it can’t be all that bad, because … if it’s legal, it can’t be bad for you,” Rubio said. “And the bottom line is, I believe that adding yet another mind-altering substance to something that’s legal is not good for the country. I understand there are people that have different views on it, but I feel strongly about that.”

Rubio makes it no secret that he strongly opposes legalization. Last year, at an education forum in Florida when asked if he ever smoked marijuana, Rubio refused to answer the question and said that his own drug experience is irrelevant. Rubio told “Politics Confidential” that his silence on the matter is based on his belief that there is no “responsible way to recreationally use marijuana.”

He recently tried to softened his position by claiming “If there are medicinal uses of marijuana that don’t have the elements that are mind-altering or create the high but do alleviate whatever condition it may be they are trying to alleviate, that is something I would be open to.” In 2013, Rubio authored An American Son and just recently released American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone. If his run for the presidency falls short, perhaps he will make it the subject of another book.

Scott Walker

scott walker“From my standpoint, I still have concerns about making it legal. I understand from the libertarian standpoint, the argument out there. I still have concerns.” – Scott Walker

Will Walker be the “sleeper” in the 2016 presidential race? Could he be carving out a spot for “second best?” Afterall, second best isn’t so bad. Ruben Navarrette says, “Despite a bump in the polls, and the fact that some conservatives consider him the prototype for successful leaders, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker would be a terrible choice…”

It has been suggested that Walker may appeal to the those supporting marijuana legalization because he believes the federal government shouldn’t stand in the way of states that do decide to end prohibition. It only takes a only few seconds, however, to listen to his own words in an interview with Brian Calle to reveal his true stance on the subject, “Marijuana is unfortunately a public health issue and a public safety issue, I propose that because I’ve seen it as a gateway…” Isn’t it finally time that people stop calling marijuana a gateway drug?

Rand Paul

senator rand paul“So I don’t really believe in prison sentences for these minor, non-violent drug offenses, but I’m not willing to go all the way to say it is a good idea either. I think people who use marijuana all the time lose IQ points, I think they lose their drive to show up for work.” – Rand Paul

Sen. Rand Paul, the most vocal critic of the “war on drugs” in the 2016 Republican presidential field, will host a “private briefing” on June 30 for campaign donors on the sidelines of the second annual Cannabis Business Summit and Expo in Denver, according to an invitation for the event obtained by Yahoo News. Never before has a major-party presidential candidate held a reception at a cannabis industry event, and NCIA is proud to host Senator Paul,” NCIA says.

Who Will You Be Voting For Come Election Day?

It’s easy to pick a candidate based on political party alone, but unless you research where the candidates stand on the issues that matter, you may end up voting for someone who goes against what you believe in. It is important that you look at a candidate’s full agenda. No one should vote based strictly upon a candidate’s position on cannabis or any other issue.

Remember, politics are about persuading people who disagree with you to agree with you. The candidates will have many opportunities to use the subject of marijuana use and legalization in their favor or against each other, so don’t be fooled by a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Start educating yourself now because not knowing the policies each candidate supports is no excuse for not voting. Your future depends on it.