Learn Where 2016's Likely Presidential Candidates Stand On Marijuana

February 7th 2015

We've already told you about where the likely 2016 presidential candidates fall on the burning issue of vaccines. But there are a few other important issues to keep in mind that will likely have huge impacts in the coming years. One of those, undeniably, is marijuana.

It's becoming increasingly clear that this slow-burning issue (no pun) is one that resonates with a diverse cross section of voters; while conservatives generally still disapprove of legalizing pot, a majority of young people support legalization, not to mention the majority of Americans. So what will this mean for GOP candidates pandering to a new electorate? More over, do Democrats have a leg up on corralling the marijuana vote this election season? As we inch closer to securing the next candidates for the Oval Office, here's a quick rundown on this divisive, important issue.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R)

In his political career, Bush has been something of an avowed anti-legalization proponent, and an opponent of relaxing sentencing laws for non-violent drug-offenders.

Back in August, the Bush announced his opposition to an overwhelmingly popular proposal to legalize medical marijuana in the state. Citing the state's efforts to boost tourism and a friendly business environment, the former Governor said that "[a]llowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts," adding in a statement that covered the bases, "I believe it is the right of states to decide this issue [...] And I strongly urge Floridians to vote against Amendment 2 this November."

Marijuana, medical or recreational, remains illegal in Florida, but a recent Boston Globe profile drudged up the potential Republican candidate's "tumultuous" years at a Massachusetts prep school, where he reportedly was known for his "notable" pot consumption. "I drank alcohol and I smoked marijuana when I was at Andover," he told the Globe."It was pretty common."

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R)

Last week, after a Globe profile revealed that Jeb Bush's 1970s-era fondness for illicit smokables didn't line up with his harsh political views on policing marijuana, the rowdy Sen. from Kentucky came down hard on what he deemed to be Bush's "hypocracy."

Speaking to the Hill, Paul slammed the former governor for his policy stances: "He was even opposed to medical marijuana," Paul noted, referencing the failed Florida initiative. "This is a guy who now admits he smoked marijuana but he wants to put people in jail who do."

"I think that's the real hypocrisy, is that people on our side, which include a lot of people who made mistakes growing up, admit their mistakes but now still want to put people in jail for that," he added.

As for Paul himself, the Senator has repeatedly spoken about the need for review and reform of the country's war on drugs, calling harsh jail sentences for possession and sale "ridiculous. "Back in July, he introduced an amendment that would shield states with legalized medical pot laws from federal prosecution that would cover 33 states. Though Paul hasn't exactly admitted to smoking pot ("Let's just say I wasn't a choir boy in college"), his college buddies were less tactful: "Randy smoked pot," said one.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R)

Just days after Bush admitted to toking in his younger years, a Cruz campaign spokesperson told the Daily Mailthat "Teenager are often known for their lack of judgment, and Sen. Cruz was no exception," adding that "When he was a teenager, he foolishly experimented with marijuana. It was a mistake, and he's never tried it since."

Cruz has traditionally been opposed to continuing with legalization measures, and publicly criticized Obama for allowing states like Washington and Colorado to move forward with recreational marijuana laws––and it doesn't seem likely that he'll reverse his course anytime soon.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio (R)

Though Rubio is a fan of both Jay-Z and Whiz Khalifa, he's likely to differ with both rappers on the topic of legalized marijuana. When he was asked if he had ever smoked pot, the Senator explained that the question was irrelevant since there's no "responsible way to use recreational marijuana."

Rubio falls into the Cruz camp, vilifying Obama's allowance of states to move forward with recreational pot laws."When something is legal, implicitly, what you're saying [is] it can't be all that bad," Rubio told Yahoo News in May. "[T]he bottom line is, I believe that adding yet another mind-altering substance to something that's legal is not good for the country."

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R)

Over the summer, Christie explained why living in his state was better than Colorado: "See if you want to live in a major city in Colorado, where there are head shops popping up on every corner, and people flying into your airport just to get high. To me, it's not the quality of life we want to have here in the state of New Jersery."

"I think legalizing marijuana is the wrong thing to do from a societal perspective, from a governmental perspective," he said. If that doesn't say enough about his stance on the matter, consider when he offered his opinion that medical marijuana was a "front for legalization."

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R)

Recently, Huckabee maintained that could not budge on gay marriage due to his adherence to "biblical law"––and his stance on marijuana seems just as rigid: he opposes both medical and recreation legalization.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

Walker has been a critic of legalizing marijuana, vocalizing predictions last year that his state would likely not see the passage of any legalization laws in the near future. To his credit, he has remained open about the possibility for discussion, saying back in March that "it may be something that resonates in the future[.]" We'll have to wait and see where on-the-fence candidates like Walker will come down in the coming months.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry (R)

For the former governor of such a conservative hot bed, Perry has been relatively relaxed about some––not all––of the aspects of modernizing marijuana laws. Last month, Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said that "legalization is no penalty at all, whereas decriminalization doesn't necessarily mean jail time (for minor possession offenses). It means more of a fine or counseling or some sort of program where you don't end up in jail but in a rehabilitative program." While open to decriminalization, however, Perry remains staunchly opposed to legalization.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D)

Unlike her husband's dubious "I didn't inhale" claims, Clinton maintains that she's never smoked, nor is she going to start. But she's remained cautiously supportive of continued research for medical usage ("[marijuana should be] available under appropriate circumstances, but I do think we need more research"), as well as recreational experimentation ("States are the laboratories of democracy [...] I want to wait and see what the evidence is").

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (D)

Warren is less liberal than you may think when it comes to pot. Although she loves a light beer on occasion ("One beer and I'm like, 'Woah, I'm ready to par-tay," she reportedly said), she was opposed to legalizing marijuana two years ago.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (D)

In April 2014, Governor O'Malley signed a bill that decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. But he is still not in favor or legalization. “I still don’t support Maryland being one those states that serves as a laboratory for legalization of marijuana,” O’Malley said.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I)

Senator Sanders might be the champion marijuana advocates have been looking for; he is not opposed to legalizing recreational use and supports medical use. "I have real concerns about implications of the war on drugs. We have been engaged in [it] for decades now with a huge cost and the destruction of a whole lot of lives of people who were never involved in any violent activities," he told Time Magazine.

Legalized marijuana, in both recreational and medical form, will be a tricky issue for 2016 presidential candidates. For Republicans, candidates must kneel to a traditional base that lampoons all things associated with pot, but at the same time pander to states' rights voters as well as a valuable younger demographic. Democrats risk alienating some traditional demographics by going to far, but they also risk losing the far left by not going far enough. As divisive as it is, marijuana will likely prove to be a much more nuanced political issue than it has been before––and certainly one that both sides will need to address.

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