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Here’s Where the 2020 Presidential Candidates Stand on Cannabis

With dozens of declared candidates ready to take on President Trump in Nov. 2020, America’s aspiring chief executives are scrambling for ways to catch the eyes of primary voters. So why not use cannabis as a sorting device?

Cannabis used to be a liberals-only issue, but not anymore. In fact, President Trump’s only declared primary challenger (so far), former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, is an outspoken libertarian and full-throated advocate for legalization.

By contrast, the Democratic frontrunner in the summer of 2019, former Vice President Joe Biden, established himself as an ardent drug warrior in the 1990s and can’t understand why so many young people today want to legalize.

We did the research. Here’s what we found (in alphabetical order). Vote, donate, and volunteer as your conscience demands.

Michael Bennet

US senator, Colorado

Although he opposed Colorado’s 2012 legalization bill, Amendment 64, Bennet has since become a champion of cannabis legalization, as well as hemp. Most recently, he co-signed the 2019 Marijuana Justice Act.

“We see hemp as a great opportunity to diversity our farms and manufacture high-margin products for the American people.” (2018)

Joe Biden

Former vice president, former US senator, Delaware

An outspoken proponent of the war on drugs, as well as the former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Joe Biden hasn’t become much more amenable to cannabis in recent years; he is the only 2020 Democratic candidate who remains explicitly opposed to federal legalization. He supports rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug, which would facilitate scientific research.

An outspoken proponent of the war on drugs, as well as the former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Joe Biden hasn’t become much more amenable to cannabis in recent years; he is the only 2020 Democratic candidate who remains explicitly opposed to federal legalization. He supports rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II drug, which would facilitate scientific research.

“There’s a difference between sending someone to jail for a few ounces and legalizing it…The punishment should fit the crime. But I think legalization is a mistake. I still believe [marijuana] is a gateway drug.” (2010)

Cory Booker

US senator, New Jersey

A longtime critic of the war on drugs and advocate of cannabis reform, Booker raised the bar on cannabis legislation this year when he became the chief sponsor of the progressive and far-reaching Marijuana Justice Act. Until recently, Booker stood virtually alone in his support for both legalization and social equity programs to help repair the damage done by the war on drugs.

“I believe too many of my young people are being unfairly punished and chewed up by the criminal justice system over small amounts of marijuana. Their lives are being severely and adversely affected by the sheer number of arrests and incarcerations we are making.  (2013)

RELATED STORYThe Latest Cannabis Bill in Congress Would Do More Than Just Legalize

Steve Bullock

Governor and former attorney general, Montana

Although Bullock has been an outspoken advocate of medical marijuana in Montana and a vocal opponent of rescinding the Cole Memo, he has kept mum on federal legalization; his public comments suggest that he is not in favor of recreational cannabis.

“I don’t want unlimited grow operations and things like that. I don’t think anybody does…I don’t think we want the chronic pain of ages 19 to 29 be the largest group [of medical cannabis patients].” (2012)

Pete Buttigieg

Mayor, South Bend, Indiana

Although he’s never tackled cannabis during his time as mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg has become a vocal proponent of ending cannabis prohibition, and often frames the issue in the context of racial disparities.

“What are we going to do…if we decide that it actually doesn’t make sense to [incarcerate] for unbelievably long amounts of time for non-violent drug offenses, what are we going to do for the people we already did that to?” (2019)

Julián Castro

Former HUD secretary, former mayor of San Antonio

As recently as 2014, Castro was skeptical of cannabis reform; in the past couple of years, however, he has become critical of the Trump Administration’s interference with state laws and is seemingly in favor of federal legalization.

“[Rescinding the Cole memo] is a mistake. Colorado and other states have shown we can sensibly legalize marijuana with reasonable controls.” (2017)

Bill DeBlasio

Mayor, New York City

DeBlasio has advocated for reducing cannabis-related arrests since he became mayor of New York City in 2014; he didn’t come out in favor of adult-use legalization until this past December, however, just two days after Governor Cuomo.

“I have been convinced that we can establish a regulatory framework that keeps our streets safe, rights the wrongs of the past, and gives economic opportunity to communities hit hardest by the war on drugs.” (2018)

John Delaney

Former US representative, Maryland

Although he hasn’t sponsored any cannabis legislation himself, Representative Delaney earned a “B” rating from NORML for his consistent voting record in favor of cannabis reform.

“[The war on drugs] has contributed to a criminal justice system where people of color are disproportionately harmed.” (2018)

Tulsi Gabbard

US representative, Hawaii

In the past couple of years Gabbard has sponsored and co-sponsored many cannabis reform bills; a military veteran, she has advocated for veterans’ legal access to cannabis. In March 2019, she and Alaska Rep. Don Young introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would remove cannabis from the federal controlled substances list and allow states to regulate the substance with full authority.

“[The criminal justice system] puts people in prison for smoking marijuana while allowing corporations like Purdue Pharma, who are responsible for the opioid-related deaths of thousands of people, to walk away scot-free with their coffers full.” (2019)

Kirsten Gillibrand

US senator, New York

While Gillibrand has publicly advocated for medical cannabis since at least 2014, she has recently evolved to become one of the most vocal pro-legalization candidates vying for the Democratic nomination.

“Sadly, as you will hear from my constituents, for decades, the so-called ‘war on drugs’ has not been pursued with equality.” (2018, in a letter to then-AG Sessions)

In early June, Gillibrand became one of the few candidates to roll out a full legalization plan. “Legalization is a criminal justice issue, a health care issue, and an economic issue,” she wrote. “It’s past time to make this happen at the federal level.”

Kamala Harris

US senator, California; former attorney general, California 

Harris has made the most dramatic shift in her cannabis views of any of the 2020 candidates. A few years ago she spoke brazenly about convicting drug dealers in California and openly scoffed at questions of legalization. She has since become a sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act (although it took her a while). Among the 2020 candidates, she has also become the most open about her own cannabis use.

“The war on drugs was a failure…It criminalized what is a public health matter. It was a war on poor communities more than anything.” (2017)

John Hickenlooper

Former governor, Colorado

Even though Hickenlooper used to consider cannabis a “gateway drug” and publicly opposed Colorado’s legalization efforts, he has since come around to the issue and signed many cannabis reform bills while in office. Still, no legalization advocate in Colorado would consider Hickenlooper an ally. He allowed the will of the voters to take effect in 2012, but he didn’t like legalization then and he’s still not a big fan of it now.

“…federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or goldfish too quickly.” (2012)

Jay Inslee

Governor, Washington

Like Hickenlooper, Inslee was initially opposed to legalization in his state, but has since become an advocate of federal cannabis reform, and has championed expunging marijuana misdemeanor charges in the state. Earlier this year he announced that he would pardon 3,500 people with low-level cannabis convictions statewide. Which is more than Hickenlooper has done.

“As states continue to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, there is more that the federal government must to do to provide states with legal certainty and empower the operation of safe systems across the country.” (2016)

Amy Klobuchar

US senator, Minnesota

Klobuchar addresses cannabis far less than most of the other candidates on the campaign trail. Although she signed on to the STATES Act, she has not supported the Marijuana Justice Act. Shortly before announcing her bid for presidency, she deleted a statement of support for the state’s medical marijuana program from her website. But then in February, a little more than a week after entering the presidential race, she said she now supportsadult-use legalization, a full 180-degree pivot from her previous policy.