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.
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.
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.
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.
Poor ol' Joe Biden seemed stuck in a different era last year when he dropped the standard ’50s dad warning that marijuana was a gateway drug. The former vice president has since retreated to the bushes on that stance, but he's still one of only two Democratic candidates who wouldn't legalize the plant federally if elected, instead advocating for further studies on the health effects of marijuana use before embracing legalization nationwide. In the meantime, Biden has released a plan calling for making marijuana easier to research at the federal level, expunging old pot crimes and decriminalizing low-level possession.
As the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana — a town of a little more than 100,000 — Pete Buttigieg hasn't made any decisions that affect the country's relationship with marijuana, but he has a relatively liberal stance on pot and other drug-possession issues. Buttigieg has been vocal about his desire to legalize marijuana federally and end incarceration for possession penalties for all drugs, and has pledged support for military veterans looking for medical marijuana if elected.
During his time on the campaign trail, Buttigieg has come under fire for racial disparities in South Bend arrests for marijuana possession. While he's argued that marijuana arrests in South Bend were lower than those in the rest of Indiana, he acknowledges that there are racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession that should be addressed.
Michael Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk order and insistence on arrests for low-level possession during his time as mayor of the Big Apple created a cold relationship with minority communities, many of which were disproportionately targeted by police during Bloomberg's mayoral tenure, when marijuana arrests skyrocketed. Bloomberg finally backed marijuana possession decriminalization in 2012, the year before his term ran out. But a few years later, he bashed Colorado's move to legalize marijuana, telling an Aspen crowd in 2015 that it was "stupid."
Bloomberg's platform on marijuana reform is short, but includes decriminalizing possession of "small amounts" of marijuana nationwide, expunging past crimes for low-level possession, and leaving the rest up to states "for the moment” while his administration takes "public health and safety into account." Despite his sketchy past with pot and his failure to support federal legalization, Bloomberg is still trying to reach the cannabis voter, spending money on advertisements with popular Instagram pages frequented by marijuana users, including @FourTwenty, which labels itself "the source of the best cannabis content on the Internet."
If this were sixteen or even eight years ago, using pot legalization as a campaign platform could have really helped Tom Steyer, a billionaire former hedge-fund manager and current activist, build more momentum in states like Colorado. But his calls for nationwide marijuana legalization, expunging prior pot convictions and adding social equity initiatives to the legal marijuana industry have been largely embraced by his competitors, as well.
Steyer also supports decriminalizing low-level opioid possession, and has pledged to fast-track marijuana banking reform in the federal government if elected.
As a congresswoman for Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard has introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at marijuana reform, including bills that would make the federal government study the impacts of state-legalization and de-schedule marijuana as a controlled substance. Gabbard also co-sponsored Perlmutter's SAFE Banking Act and was a driving force for the MORE Act, as well as several other bills that push overall legalization and loosening the country's current restrictive marijuana and hemp policies.
Gabbard has also vocally supported regulating social marijuana consumption at the state or local level, and even tried soliciting campaign donations last April 20 (4/20), asking for contributions from $4.20 to $420.
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