Jeb Bush Among Presidential Hopefuls Supporting States' Right to Legalize Pot

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In January, we published a post based on this question: Will candidates' positions on pot be a big 2016 presidential campaign issue?

At the time, Jeb Bush, widely considered to be the front-runner for the Republican nomination, was seen among the hopefuls taking the toughest anti-pot-legalization stance.

Now, however, he appears to have softened his position, arguing that states should have the right to legalize cannabis even though he doesn't personally think they should.

He's not alone. Indeed, Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz took pretty much the same position at the recently concluded Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando.

Fox News anchor Sean Hannity asked numerous candidates about their stance on state legalization of marijuana at the conference, typically referencing Colorado in his questions.

After a ham-handed joke about the brownies at the conference having come from Colorado, Cruz answered Hannity's question like so: "I actually think this is 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.”

Here's that clip:

When Hannity asked Paul if marijuana legalization in Colorado was good or bad in a separate interview accessible here, Paul replied, "Yet to be determined. But I think freedom for the most part is a good thing, states rights is a good thing.

"My position has always been not necessarily, 'Hey, let's legalize everything,' but my position has been, 'Let's don't put people in jail for a decade or for thirty years," he continued. "There's a young woman named Jill Lockwood who did prescription pills, she did a false prescription. She should be punished, but fifteen years in jail is crazy."

Paul also slammed Bush for what he considers his hypocrisy on the marijuana question.

Here's a Fox News clip on that subject:

Bush's position does seem to have shifted — although he'd probably prefer the word "evolved."

At the time of the aforementioned January post, the website OnTheIssues.com featured a slew of links in which Bush declared his antipathy for cannabis legalization. Here's how the site characterized his views on drug-policy reform from various angles:

No medical marijuana; it's just a guise toward legalization.

Deploy military on both sides of the US-Mexican border.

Supper with kids keeps them away from drugs & booze.

Create a prescription drug tracking system to prevent abuse.

Opposed treatment instead of jail for nonviolent drug users.

Mandatory prison sentences for drug offenses.

Reduce drug use by 50% by prevention & enforcement.

More federal funding for all aspects of Drug War.

At CPAC, though, Bush sang a different tune. To Hannity's query about whether Colorado's pot legalization was a good or bad idea, he replied, "I thought it was a bad idea, but states ought to have that right to do it" — although he added that had he been here at the time, he would have voted no.

Bush's new approach to the question comes as no surprise to the Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell. In an e-mail to Westword, he writes, "Letting states set their own marijuana laws without federal interference is quickly becoming the default position among ambitious politicians in both parties. That’s because polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans supports local control and responsibility when it comes to marijuana policy. When voters lead, politicians have to follow or get left behind."

Here's the clip featuring Bush's marijuana statement, heard just past the 1:20 mark.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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