Monday July 27, 2015
Political candidates have come a long way since 1992, when Bill Clinton found the perfect balance of word play to appeal to those okay with a little past pot experimentation and those who prefer a president who never smoked the stuff.
He admitted to the New York Times that he tried pot a few times in college in England, but never inhaled. (Although in a 2013 interview he admitted he probably stretched the truth here and the number was much more than a few).
Clinton’s line-straddling ultimately turned into a joke, but opened the door to make past pot use a legitimate campaign topic issue. George W. Bush and Barack Obama shared that they smoked pot – and both inhaled -- in their younger days, as did vice presidential candidates Al Gore and Sarah Palin.
With more than a dozen candidates already gearing up for 2016, it’s clear that marijuana is going to be a solid campaign issue, not just for these contenders but for state and national party platforms. Candidates will not only have to discuss their own cannabis backgrounds, and also share opinions on different pot-related topics in the current national conversations: medicinal use, enforcement, state versus federal jurisdictions, decriminalization and hemp industrialization.
There will likely be pandering, depending the audiences and donor bases, and we’ll probably hear presidential pot references spanning the centuries from Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign to Jefferson’s practical pro-hemp views. But it might also may be a good opportunity to find a leader willing to have serious discussions and focus on what has been somewhat of an underground issue.
Here’s how a few of them are already are trying to distinguish themselves in the battle for a possibly greener tomorrow.
Jeb Bush tried to beat some opponents to the punch by admitting to frequent pot use during his boarding school days when there was lots of drinking, drug use, and violence. As Florida's governor he hedged his bets on a few topics, such as whether the federal government should enforce laws in states where voters passed medical provisions – “it requires more thought.” On the current campaign trail he said he now opposes recreational and medicinal marijuana, prompting co-candidate Rand Paul to call him a hypocrite for his earlier enthusiasm for it.
The Kentucky senator promotes many libertarian views on marijuana. He calls for a larger reform of drug-related sentencing laws, and says it’s ridiculous to give some offenders more jail time than those convicted of violent crimes. He’s not a fan of the resources spent on the War on Drugs, which is hurting people. He has dodged some questions about his own past pot use at Baylor University, a Baptist college.
The Texas Senator has confounded some people with his pot views. In one speech, he said that states, not the federal government, should direct their own policy, but said Congress also should have a role in establishing a uniform enforcement policy, not the White House. He has admitted smoking pot in high school, but says he hasn’t tried it since.
The governor from New Jersey doesn't just oppose general marijuana legalization, but has specifically targeted and spoken out against states with recreational marijuana, including Colorado and Washington. Christie opposed the medical marijuana law in New Jersey, which passed before he came into his position as governor. Since then, he has done all that he can to limit its effectiveness. Christie has said that “States should not be permitted to sell it and profit [from legalizing marijuana].” —Huffington Post, April 14, 2015
Donald Trump is an infamous businessman and reality TV personality who was quoted in 1990 as a supporter of legalizing marijuana to win the war on drugs. Since then, Trump has pulled a complete 180, now stating that he is fully against marijuana legalization -- although he seems to be on board with letting the states ultimately decide.
Part of Clinton’s strategy during her current campaign is to distance herself from her husband’s record and behaviors. This has included not only saying she never inhaled, but never even tried pot at all in college, and isn’t planning to start now. She advocates more research into the possible benefits of medicinal marijuana, and so far, has concluded it should be available for this purpose. She’s also interested in seeing how residents in Washington and Colorado handle their now-legal recreational pot, and what the economic and criminal effects will be.
Opponents of Sanders would love to label the Senator from Vermont a pot-smoking Democratic socialist, but he actually would respectfully disagree on two points. He’s officially an Independent in Congress, not a Democrat, although he’s campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. He also said he smoked pot on two occasions in the late 1960s, which made him cough some. In the end, he said he didn’t really care for it personally but thinks others should have access. Like Clinton, he’s curious about what’s happening in Colorado and Washington in terms of state policies. Interestingly, like Paul, Sanders believes that pot-related sentencing and enforcement needs an overhaul since so many people are in jail for drug-related crimes. He was a co-sponsor of the State’s Rights to Medical Marijuana Act, and also pushed to remove hemp products from marijuana enforcement rules.