Marijuana has often been an awkward issue for those holding the highest office in the U.S.
Rumours surrounded John F. Kennedy’s recreational and medical uses of marijuana during his time in the White House. Bill Clinton unconvincingly claimed that he had tried cannabis but “didn’t inhale.” And George W. Bush confessed to Jay Leno that he “might’ve smoked something” in his younger years.
Barack Obama was less sheepish in detailing his own past relationship with cannabis, captured in photos from his younger years.
Considering that marijuana has been federally illegal since the 1930s, it’s easy to understand why so many presidents have been cautious about revealing their history with it.
But this situation is starting to change dramatically. Wide-spread marijuana reform has swept across the U.S. in recent years, challenging the status quo of prohibition and opening up the conversation on the potential benefits of marijuana and the harms caused by regressive laws.
Candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination have as a result become more vocal about their views on marijuana’s place in law enforcement, medicine, and American culture.
Here’s a rundown on what some of the leading nominees for the Democrat ticket are saying about marijuana.
Sen. Cory Booker
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination on Feb 1 and quickly addressed marijuana legalization in his first radio interview after breaking the news of his run for the presidency.
Booker is also a vocal supporter of criminal justice reform more broadly.
In a Facebook live video from Aug. 2017 announcing his introduction to the Marijuana Justice Act, Booker said that “the failed war on drugs has locked up millions of nonviolent drug offenders — especially for marijuana-related offense — at an incredible cost of lost human potential, torn-apart families and communities, and taxpayer dollars.”
Booker’s legislation has received support from other Democratic presidential nominees Sens. Sanders, Harris and Gillibrand.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced her candidacy on Jan. 15, during an appearance on Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show.”
She has been an outspoken critic of the pharmaceutical industry for opposing marijuana legalization.
She tweeted: “Big pharma keeps pushing back against legalizing medical marijuana because, in many cases, they want to continue to sell addictive drugs and dominate the market for drugs that address chronic pain. That’s wrong.”
Gillibrand has also advocated for policies to expand health-care access and universal paid family leave, as well as challenging the culture of sexual harassment and assault in the military and in politics.
She appeared alongside Booker in the Facebook live video discussing the Marijuana Justice Act and how to reform the criminal justice system through marijuana legalization.
Sen. Kamala Harris
California Sen. Kamala Harris threw her hat into the presidential race on Jan. 27, officially announcing her run on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Harris served as California Attorney General and San Francisco District Attorney until she became only the second African-American woman to sit in the Senate. From there she has been a supporter of policies seeking to expand health-care access and affordable housing, as well as the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana.
Harris tweeted: “Decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level isn’t just a smart thing to do —it’s the right thing to do. We can’t keep repeating the same mistakes of the past. Too many lives have been ruined by these regressive policies.”
Harris was recently at the center of a cannabis-related controversy, referred to as “Reefergate” or “Snoopgate” in social media, in what has also been dubbed “the dumbest story of the year.”
On Feb. 11, 2019, Harris appeared on “The Breakfast Club” radio show where she spoke of smoking cannabis at college and enjoying listening to Snoop Dogg and 2Pac. Sharp-eared listeners were quick to point out neither artist had released music by the time Harris had graduated from college.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced her candidacy to an ever-growing Democratic field on Feb. 10. Over her many years of service in the Senate she has forged a reputation as a tough pragmatist who wins her elections by huge margins.
She stated her commitment to marijuana legalization in her candidacy announcement, as well as making calls to regulate the technology sector.
Jackie Alemany, a journalist from the Washington Post, tweeted the following: “UPDATE from @amyklobuchar: “I support the legalization of marijuana and believe that states should have the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders.””9
Unlike Gillibrand, Harris, and Sanders, Klobuchar is yet to sign on to Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act.
Beto O’Rourke made headlines last year after narrowly losing the race for the Texas U.S. Senate Seat to Republican Ted Cruz.
O’Rourke announced his run on March 14, 2019 and is seen as a rising star in the Democratic party having run a competitive campaign in a state generally known as a safe Republican stronghold.
His record in the House of Representatives shows support for universal health-care coverage, gun control, as well as an end to the federal prohibition on marijuana.
He tweeted the following in 2018: “It’s time to end the war on drugs. That starts by ending the federal prohibition on marijuana.”
O’Rourke has also been an active proponent in the rescheduling of cannabis and in reducing DEA funding of marijuana eradication programs.
O’Rourke made his opposition to federal marijuana prohibition clear once again on the day of his announcement to join the 2020 presidential race to a crowd in Iowa.
Speaking to a crowd in Iowa, Beto O’Rourke says “we should end the federal prohibition on marijuana,” adding that the people hurt most by marijuana prohibition “do not look like this room. They are browner and blacker than most of America.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders
Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders officially announced his anticipated run for the presidency again on Feb. 18, 2019, in an email to his supporters. There he laid out his policies, including universal health-care access, free college tuition, and an end to the war on drugs.
He tweeted: “We need to invest in jobs and education for our kids, not more jails and incarceration. We need to end the destructive “war on drugs,” eliminate private prisons and cash bail and bring about major police department reform.”
Sanders has a proven track record of supporting policies aimed at decriminalizing and rescheduling cannabis. In January last year, Sanders criticized former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ rolling back protections to states that legalized marijuana use under Obama’s presidency.
Sanders tweeted: “Instead of Attorney General Sessions intensifying the failed war on drugs, states should be allowed to make their own decisions regarding the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana.”
In January of this year, Sanders listed marijuana legalization alongside a number of other “radical” ideas that have widespread support among Americans, alongside a $15 minimum wage, regulation of large banks, and the expansion of Social Security.
Sanders tweeted the following to express the support for his ideas.
“On nearly every “radical” idea the American people are with us:
72% want to expand Social Security.
70% want Medicare for All.
65% want a jobs guarantee.
64% want to legalize marijuana.
60% want tuition-free public colleges.
58% want $15 min wage.
57% want to break up big banks.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced her run for the presidency on Feb. 9, 2019. Like Sanders, Warren is a vocal critic of Wall Street. She is also outspoken about tackling the opioid epidemic and speaks about the possibility of medical marijuana being an alternative to opioid-based pain treatments that often lead to addiction.
Warren tweeted the following: “Medical marijuana might be a viable alternative to opioids for pain treatment, but truthfully, there’s a lot we just don’t know.”
Warren has also fought back against President Trump’s lack of commitment to protect states that have legalized the use of cannabis. She filed a bill that would ensure that the federal government does not intervene with states that have legalized marijuana.
“It’s time to reform America’s outdated marijuana policies. Watch live as @SenCoryGarder and I discuss our new legislation that would let states, territories, & tribes decide for themselves how best to regulate marijuana – without federal interference.”