2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates on Cannabis: Past & Present

How Long Has Each Candidate Been Pro-Legalization, really?

Most of the Democrats seeking the White House in 2020 agree that the plant needs to be federally legal. But have they always felt that way?

It’s a great time to be a fan of our plant. Cannabis is legal in 20% of U.S. states, with others including New York, Illinois, Hawaii, and New Hampshire currently pursuing state legislature for legalization. Rolling Stone says 2019 will be “The Year of Weed.”

Much of the conversation about cannabis, both this year and next, will be framed by the 2020 presidential election. Cannabis, like many other political issues, will have a drastically different fate depending on which party’s nominee has his (or her!) hand on the bible in front of Capitol Hill in 2021.

For many years, Democrats have been the party pushing ahead on cannabis laws. They also have a much larger field of 2020 presidential candidates than the GOP, who in all likelihood already have their nominee.

Almost all Democratic nominees support full legalization of cannabis. Whichever candidate is elected will most likely facilitate federal legalization, which will be a milestone in the plant’s history no matter who is president. But with their present positions on the plant so similar, let’s look at what six of the top 2020 Democratic nominees have said about cannabis in the past, compared to the tune they’re singing now.

Senator Kamala Harris

Harris wrote in her book, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey” that America needs to begin “dismantling” the “failed war on drugs.” Sen. Harris also co-sponsored Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act, which would make cannabis federally legal and expunge cannabis-related convictions from criminal records.

In the Past: Mixed record.

Harris laughed at a reporter who asked her a question about legalization when she was running for California Attorney General in 2014. And despite her home state of California having a long record of attempts at legalization, it seems like she never really got behind them until she realized her presidential ambitions. 

Senator Bernie Sanders

Bernie is the OG of the movement to legalize — but then again, when you’ve been in Congress for almost 30 years, you have a bit of an advantage. He was the most significant presidential candidate in the 2016 election to announce that he would “probably” vote for legalization, and his views have carried on with him to 2020.

In the Past: Good record.

Senator Sanders has been arguing for looser drug enforcement policies since his first term in the Housein 1991. Bernie co-sponsored a 2001 billallowing states to set up their own medical marijuana programs. In 2015, ahead of his historic rise to prominence in the Democratic party, he introduced a bill to legalize cannabis. Sen. Sanders also has an A+ rating from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Senator Cory Booker

Sen. Booker is one of the main faces behind the Marijuana Justice Act, a bill that he recently re-introduced to the Senate. Like other Democratic candidates, he wants to end harmful drug enforcement policies that disproportionately impact minorities.

In the Past: Good record.

As mayor of Newark in 2012, he wrote online that the drug war “has not succeeded in making significant reductions in drug use, drug arrests or violence.” He also introduced his Marijuana Justice Act to the Senate in 2017. However, Sen. Booker loses a bit of credibility for failing to commit to even decriminalizing cannabis in 2013, while running for his first term in the Senate — he merely called for a “conversation” on the matter. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden

Although Biden has not officially announced his entry into the 2020 contest, he’s reportedly very close. The former Vice President has not yet released an official statement about his campaign’s platform on cannabis.

In the Past: Bad record.

Despite his genial “Uncle Joe” persona, his public statements while Vice President indicate that Biden holds some outdated views on cannabis. In a 2010 ABC interview, he called it a “gateway drug.” While he said in 2014 that spending money on convicting people for smoking marijuana was “a waste of our resources,” he also clarified, “That’s different than legalization.” Worse, he has enthusiastically supported many of the tyrannical 1980s-era drug war policies, from creating a “drug czar” to helping establish the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Sen Warren also co-signed the Marijuana Justice Act and has called for full federal legalization of cannabis. Last year, she stated, “the federal government needs to get out of the business of outlawing marijuana.”

In the Past: Mixed record.

Warren has been calling for cannabis to be rescheduled under federal drug policy for several years. In 2015, she said she was “open”to legalizing cannabis at the federal level. However, she hasn’t always been such a stalwart of the legalization movement. While running for Senate in 2012, she was anti-weed, even going so far as to attack her opponent for being lax on cannabis and taking money from gun lobbyists: “He wants us armed and stoned,”she said of state representative Dan Winslow. And while Sen. Warren says that she personally voted for Massachusetts’ Question 4, which legalized cannabis in 2016, the media pointed out that her office failed to endorse legalizationofficiallyahead of the vote.

Senator Amy Klobuchar

Running on an image of a friendly midwesterner who can bring some gentility back to politics, Sen. Klobuchar announced recently that she would “support the legalization of marijuana” and that “states should have the right to determine the best approach.”

In the Past: Mixed record.

Although she has supported several Senate bills to further research into medical cannabis and now says she is open to legalization, Sen. Klobuchar has not made many other public statements about the plant. She also has not signed on to Sen. Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act, and previously received a “D” rating from NORML in 2016 – though that rating appears to have been upgraded to a “B.”


Raj Chander

Raj is a seasoned freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Washington, D.C. He writes about politics, health & fitness, and digital marketing trends. Outside of work Raj enjoys basketball, blues music, and reading. Please send him your best puns on Twitter.

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