Marijuana

How Democratic Presidential Primary Candidates Feel About Weed

Bernie Sanders addresses the crowd during a campaign speech in Denver in 2019.
Bernie Sanders addresses the crowd during a campaign speech in Denver in 2019. Evan Semón
Marijuana's future in the United States remains a hot topic as Super Tuesday approaches. Formerly dismissed by virtually every presidential candidate, supporting pot legalization now seems a prerequisite for any
Democratic hopeful. The level of support varies, however, with some candidates preferring to give states the right to choose, while others are pledging to legalize marijuana through executive action if need be.

Before you submit your ballot for the March 3 count, read the past and present pot opinions of the eight Democratic contenders below.

Amy Klobuchar
A former county attorney in Minnesota, Senator Amy Klobuchar used to be responsible for prosecuting marijuana arrests and said that she opposed legalization during a public hearing in 1998, but her stance on the plant has shifted during her time in the Senate. She's co-sponsored a handful of pot reform measures, including Colorado Representative Ed Perlmutter's SAFE Banking Act to protect banks that serve state-legal pot businesses and Colorado Senator Cory Gardner's STATES Act, which would allow states to govern marijuana themselves. Klobuchar's support for federal legalization is on the record, but it doesn't seem like a top priority of her campaign.

Bernie Sanders
Of all the candidates, the liberal senator from Vermont has been the longest vocal supporter of marijuana. Senator Sanders admitted to have smoked weed to the press as early as 1972, and had begun supporting pot reform in Congress by 1996. Sanders has pledged to legalize marijuana on the first day of his presidency (though there's some question if that's possible), and he released an outline of plans for marijuana regulation at the federal level last year. They include banning tobacco and cigarette corporations from entering the legal pot trade, expungement efforts for past marijuana convictions, and federal funding for social-equity initiatives that benefit communities impacted by the War on Drugs.


Elizabeth Warren
Although lukewarm on the idea of recreational legalization in her home state in 2016, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren seems to have come around on the idea. In 2018, Warren joined Cory Gardner as a prime sponsor of the STATES Act in the Senate, and co-sponsored Perlmutter's SAFE Banking Act; she's also a co-sponsor of the MORE Act, which would legalize marijuana at the federal level.

On Sunday, February 23 (the same day she visited Colorado), Warren released perhaps the most comprehensive marijuana plan of all the candidates. That plan calls for legalizing pot through Congress, but she says she would do so through executive action if she had to, and would "appoint agency heads, including at the Department of Justice, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, who support legalization."

Warren's proposal also outlines plans to expunge past marijuana convictions, protection for immigrants working in the federally illegal industry from deportation, advancing medical marijuana research, and giving sovereignty to Native American tribes that want to participate in legal marijuana.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell