From Trump to Sanders: Where the 2016 Presidential Candidates Stand on Marijuana Legalization

With most presidential candidates at least open to allowing states to set their own marijuana policies, 2016 could be the biggest year yet for cannabis legalization.

The upcoming election could significantly influence the passing of adult recreational use and medical marijuana legislation. A candidate strongly opposed to legalization may stall or even reverse the progress made over the years. A candidate in support of cannabis legalization has the potential of strongly pushing the country toward the end of cannabis prohibition.

The support for cannabis legalization is at an all time high in the United States. An October 2015 survey by Gallup found that 58% of Americans believe marijuana should be legal in the United States. The survey also found that while younger generations are more supportive than older ones, older generations are more supportive than they were in the past. In addition, a recent report from ArcView Market Research found that legal marijuana sales are expected to reach $6.7 billion this year, a 17 percent jump from 2015.

Most of the remaining presidential candidates support medical marijuana programs, but the candidates to vary in their opinions on legalization of adult recreational use. Below is a rundown on each of the remaining major candidates so that you can be educated when you head to the ballot box.

Hillary Clinton (D)

  • Recreational Legalization: Refuses to take a position until she can see the effects on the states that have adopted legalization
  • Medical Marijuana Expansion: Supports access to medical marijuana

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has voiced her support for medical marijuana programs and has stated she’d like to encourage more research into cannabis and its therapeutic benefits. In regards to recreational legalization, Secretary Clinton has stated she’d like to see what happens in the four states that have adopted legalization (Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon) before she takes a stand in either support or opposition.

However, on November 7, 2015, Senator Clinton did voice her support for reclassifying marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act so that there would be fewer legal barriers for researchers investigating cannabis’ medical benefits. The last time Secretary Clinton spoke on cannabis legalization was on January 25, 2016, in an interview with WBZ NewsRadio.

During that interview she said: “I think that states are the laboratories of democracy, and four states have already taken action to legalize, and it will be important that other states and the federal government take account of how that’s being done, what we learn from what they’re doing. And I do think on the federal level we need to move marijuana from the Schedule One of drugs, move it to Schedule Two, which will permit it to be the basis for medical research … A lot of experts in the field are telling me we’ve got to learn a lot more. For example, you’re taking marijuana for medical purposes, how does it interact with all the other drugs you’re taking? What should be the right dosage?”

Bernie Sanders (D)

  • Recreational Legalization: Supports federal legalization
  • Medical Marijuana Expansion: Supports access to medical marijuana

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders has expressed his support for the legalization of cannabis for both adult recreational and medical purposes. In November 2015, Senator Sanders filed a Senate bill that would remove cannabis from the federal drug schedules and allow states to legalize recreational marijuana. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act would allow states to regulate marijuana in the same manner they do alcohol. It would also permit businesses in the cannabis industry to access banking services that are not currently available because of the federal law. The bill has yet to land any co-sponsors. Senator Sanders has been highly vocal against the War on Drugs.

In a press release from October 28, 2015, Senator Sanders said: “In the United States we have 2.2 million people in jail today, more than any other country. And we’re spending about $80 billion a year to lock people up. We need major changes in our criminal justice system – including changes in drug laws. Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That’s wrong. That has got to change.”

Donald Trump (R)

  • Recreational Legalization: Unclear – has stated both strong opposition and that he believes in the rights of states to decide
  • Medical Marijuana Expansion: Supports access to medical marijuana

Republican Presidential candidate Donald trump has said he’s “a hundred percent” in favor of medical marijuana. Trump’s stance on recreational cannabis legalization, however, is relatively dubious. During a February 2015 interview with C-SPAN, Trump voiced opposition to marijuana legalization. “I’d say [regulating marijuana] is bad,” he said. “Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it’s bad and I feel strongly about that.”

At that time, however, he did support the states’ rights for legalization, stating, “If they vote for it, they vote for it. But you know, they’ve got a lot of problems going on in Colorado right now. Big problems. But I think medical marijuana, a hundred percent.” However, one year later, during a February 2016 interview with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News, Trump acknowledged that “in some ways [legalization] is good.” At other times, Trump has stated he believes legalization should be left up to the states.

At a political rally in October 2015, Trump said: “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state. … Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should happen — right? Don’t we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.”

Ted Cruz (R)

  • Recreational Legalization: Personally opposed, but supports the rights of states to decide
  • Medical Marijuana Expansion: Unclear

U.S. Senator Cruz has voiced his opposition to recreational marijuana use for adults, but has said he believes states should have the right to establish their own policies.

During an April 2015 interview on the Hugh Hewitt Show, Senator Cruz said: “When it comes to a question of legalizing marijuana, I don’t support legalizing marijuana. If it were on the ballot in the state of Texas, I would vote no. But I also believe that’s a legitimate question for the states to make a determination. And the citizens of Colorado and Washington State have come to a different conclusion. They have decided they want to legalize it. I think it is appropriate for the federal government to recognize that the citizens of those states have made that decision, and one of the benefits of it, you know, using Brandeis’ terms of laboratories of democracy, is we can now watch and see what happens in Colorado and Washington State.”

With that said, in January of 2014, Senator Cruz criticized President Obama’s administration for not enforcing federal marijuana laws in the states that have legalized adult recreational use. He went on to say that the Obama administration should continue imprisoning people for using marijuana in these states until the federal law is changed. Senator Cruz’s thoughts on expanding medical marijuana legislation are unclear.