2020 Democratic Candidates Speak Out On Marijuana Laws During Debate

Democrats touch on cannabis access laws and decriminalization during the fourth Democratic debate.

In the largest primary debate in history, 12 Democrats shared the stage for a chance to discuss hot topics in American politics. The Oct. 15 Democratic debate was co-hosted by CNN and the New York Times and took place in Ohio. While there were a lot of issues covered, several candidates spoke out about cannabis.

The most passionate declaration of the night came from former U.S. Representative, Beto O’Rourke. Using a story to illustrate his point, O’Rourke made it clear where he stands on legalizing marijuana and expunging records for marijuana convictions. O’Rourke spoke about a veteran he met who purchased heroin after being prescribed opioids by a Veterans Affairs physician.

“Imagine if that veteran instead of being prescribed an opioid had been prescribed marijuana, because we made that legal in America,” O’Rourke said. “Ensured the VA could prescribe it, expunged the arrest records for those who had been arrested for possession and made sure that he was not prescribed something to which he would become addicted.”

In a less serious manner, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), who suffered a heart attack just weeks prior to the debate, joked about not being “on” marijuana during the debate after addressing questions about his health. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) chimed in with the comment, “Sen. Sanders is in favor of medical marijuana, I want to make that clear.”

Sanders followed up with a laugh and stated, “I’m not on it tonight.”

Sanders is one of many Democratic candidates who have introduced or supported plans for cannabis legalization and decriminalization. One of his campaign promises listed on his campaign website is to, “Legalize marijuana and vacate and expunge past marijuana convictions, and ensure that revenue from legal marijuana is reinvested in communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs.”

In June, Booker unveiled his presidential plan for marijuana justice reform, pledging to grant executive clemency nonviolent federal offenders serving time for cannabis-related convictions. Sen. Kamala Harris introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act to the Senate in July.

Watch the full debate, here.

2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates

It is a long list, but here are the candidates who attended the debate and are still vying for the Democratic ticket and a chance to become the next U.S. president, in alphabetical order:

  • Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
  • Sen. Cory Booker (New Jersey)
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg (Indiana)
  • Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro (Texas)
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii)
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.)
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn)
  • Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas)
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont)
  • Philanthropist Tom Steyer (Calif.)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.)
  • Former tech executive Andrew Yang (New York).

Five Democratic candidates did not qualify for the debate, including author and spiritual leader Marianne Williamson, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak, and Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam.

Nearly every candidate has at some point taken political action or released some information reflecting their stance on cannabis. To find out what direction each candidate is leaning when it comes to cannabis legalization, visit our news page, 2020 Presidential Candidates On Marijuana: The Ultimate Guide.

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