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Cannabis 2020: Here's where presidential candidates stand on marijuana

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WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — As the 2020 presidential election gets underway, you may be wondering which candidates are for or against marijuana legislation. So, we at Circa dove into candidates' Twitter history and voting history to see where they stand — and where they have previously stood — on cannabis.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

Current senator from New Jersey (2013-present)
Former mayor of Newark, N.J. (2006-2013)

Cory Booker has been the chief architect or a cosigner of a multitude of cannabis-related bills in the U.S. Senate, many of which focus on criminal justice reform. He has been named one of "The Five Best U.S. Senators on Marijuana Policy" by Forbes and has an A+ grade from cannabis advocacy group NORML.

As far back as 2012, Booker was publicly in support of medical marijuana. In a Reddit AMA in 2012, Booker said, "Medical marijuana. It should be available and legal... why is marijuana singled out and denied to sick people?" Booker remains one of the few senators from a state without a legal recreational cannabis market to actively support and even introduce cannabis legislation.

Cory Booker Reddit AMA 2012 Marijuana
Cory Booker explains his stance on legalizing marijuana in 2012. (Reddit screenshot)

His most recent bill — the Marijuana Justice Act — had six cosigners including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and fellow presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. He also signed on as a cosponsor of Democratic Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley's SAFE Banking Act of 2017. Neither passed, but both were considered important steps toward federal cannabis legislation.

Booker has not always been pro-recreational cannabis, however. In that same Reddit AMA he conducted as mayor of Newark in 2012, Booker made sure to draw the line. "To be clear," he said, "non-medicinal use of the drug is unhealthy for those who use it, and for society."

New Jersey has legal medical marijuana, but not recreational marijuana.

Secretary Julián Castro, D-Texas

Former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (2014-2017)
Former mayor of San Antonio (2009-2014)

Castro was HUD secretary in 2014 when the Obama administration loosened restrictions on cannabis possession by individuals receiving HUD subsidies. Before that point, HUD policy required mandatory evictions for anyone found with marijuana. He hasn't been incredibly vocal about cannabis, however, neither negatively nor positively. The most vocal Castro has been about cannabis was in 2017, when he posted on Facebook (below) that the White House's threat to start cracking down on legal states would be "a mistake."

Cannabis is not legal in Texas, neither recreationally nor medically.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

Current senator from New York (2009-present)
Former U.S. representative from New York's 20th District (2007-2009)

Gillibrand was a cosponsor of many pieces of pro-cannabis legislation, often with Booker, including the Marijuana Justice Act in 2017. And when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed the Cole Memo, Gillibrand took to Twitter to condemn the move (below).

But as a U.S. representative, Gillibrand did not decide to cosponsor the Act to Remove Federal Penalties for the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults, which was introduced by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.

She has received an A grade from NORML.

Recreational cannabis is not legal in her state, New York, but current Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he wants it legalized soon.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

Current senator from California (2017-present)
Former attorney general of California (2011-2017)
Former district attorney of San Francisco (2004-2011)

Sen. Kamala Harris wrote in her 2019 autobiography that legalizing marijuana is part of "dismantling the failed war on drugs." She has, in more recent years, frequently signed on to cannabis legislation proposed by her Senate colleagues, at times working closely with Booker. She has also said that she supports the expungement of nonviolent marijuana offenses—something included in the 2018 Marijuana Justice Act, which she cosponsored. She has an A grade from NORML.

But before coming to Congress, Harris' stance on marijuana was much more hard-line. When asked about California legalizing marijuana by a reporter during her attorney general re-election campaign in 2014, Harris famously laughed.

YouTube

California has legalized both medical and recreational marijuana.

Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.

Current governor of Washington (2013-present)
Former state representative

Inslee's position on marijuana has evolved during his time in office. As a gubernatorial candidate in 2012, he said he was pro-medical marijuana but actually did not support the Washington Initiative 502 that ended up passing in the same November election that also elected Inslee as governor. At the time, I-502 was supported by Seattle's mayor and a handful of current and former leaders in the state's law enforcement.

In 2014, Inslee explained his hesitancy about adult-use cannabis legalization to The New York Times, saying, "I recognized the really rational decision that people made that criminalization efforts were not a successful public policy ... but frankly, I really don't want to send a message to our kids that this is a route that is without risk."

By 2018, however, Inslee was bragging about Washington state's weed on "Real Time with Bill Maher" and saying he hoped President Donald Trump would "leave us alone."

In early 2019, Inslee announced he'd offer pardons to anyone with a single cannabis-related misdemeanor on their record. The governor's office estimated the act would affect about 3,500 Washingtonians. Advocates said that it was a step in the right direction, but felt it needed to go further. A month into the Marijuana Justice Initiative, The Seattle Times reported that just 13 people had received the pardons.

Inslee has called on the federal government to deschedule marijuana, citing states' rights.

Inslee has an A grade from NORML.

He has tweeted about cannabis or marijuana 18 times, mostly regarding his Marijuana Justice Initiative or in reaction to federal policy.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Current senator from Minnesota (2007-Present)
Former county attorney of Hennepin County (1999-2007)

She has a B grade from cannabis advocacy organization NORML for her failure to ever co-sponsor legislation that would deschedule marijuana on a federal level.

She did not sponsor Cory Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act of 2017, which many of her 2020 counterparts — including Senators Warren, Gillibrand and Harris — did sponsor.

What Klobuchar has co-sponsored are a series of bills that remove hemp-based CBD from the controlled substances act or create a path for research for CBD-based medicine. She also co-sponsored the STATES act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Elizabeth Warren, which would allow states to set their own marijuana regulations and not be at odds with the federal government.

Klobuchar has never tweeted the word cannabis or marijuana.

Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas

Former candidate for Senate (2018 election)
Former congressman from Texas (2013-2019)
Former city council member in El Paso, Texas (2005-2011)

Beto O'Rourke has had a pretty steady position on marijuana: The drug war has failed.

He said that in 2009, as an El Paso City Council member, and again in Facebook videos in 2017 and 2018.

In 2009, O'Rourke told The Austin Chronicle he wasn't necessarily advocating for using illegal drugs but that the war on drugs was a "complete failure."

And when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed the Cole memo in early 2018, O'Rourke said, "marijuana today is just as available in high schools and increasingly in middle schools as it was 45 years ago when this first started."

In a 2017 Facebook Live, he called the drug war "a really noble effort to keep drugs away primarily from kids and other(s) who were very vulnerable, to keep the profits out of the hands of cartels and criminals, and to ensure that our communities are safer." But, he said, "by any measure I can look at, despite the best efforts of some incredibly heroic members of law enforcement and folks just working in every community in this country, we have failed at that." And he said that descheduling is "the least bad solution" to keeping high schoolers away from marijuana.

So, what does descheduling marijuana even mean?

He also said that Americans are moving toward a "more rational, humane, compassionate policy when it comes to drugs, especially marijuana."

He acknowledged in a 2017 discussion moderated by NORML that his hometown, El Paso, was one of the first to criminalize cannabis, and that was largely due to racism against Mexicans.

And he has also spoken out on medical use and criminal justice issues regarding cannabis.

"The public is way out in front of us," he said in 2017. "It's very clear that this disproportionately impacts communities of color in the United States."

Cannabis is not legal in Texas, but O'Rourke has said repeatedly he believes it will come sooner rather than later.

He was endorsed in his 2018 Senate bid and his 2014 congressional bid by NORML.

He has been tweeting about marijuana since 2012, initially sharing articles and op-eds that discuss an end of the drug war or talk about its failure before eventually moving into his own policy positions by 2014.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Current senator from Vermont (2007-present)
Former congressman from Vermont (1991-2007)
Former mayor of Burlington, Vt (1981-1989)

Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, has a long history of supporting cannabis reform. As far back as 1998, he voted 'no' on a bill that would have subjected federal government employees to random drug testing. In 2016, as a Democratic candidate for president, Sanders said he would deschedule marijuana from the banned substances list.

Also during the 2016 election, Sanders told a crowd of supporters in Michigan that he smoked marijuana.

"I've done marijuana twice in my life, when I was very young," he said. "And what it did for me, is it made me cough a lot."

More recently, Sanders has supported Sen. Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act, and was endorsed in his 2018 Senate reelection campaign by NORML.

Sen. Sanders has an A+ grade from NORML.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Current senator from Massachusetts (2013-present)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is one of Forbes' top five senators for marijuana. But she hasn't always been that way. In 2013, she made a dig at a Massachusetts state senator, saying "He has a 100 percent ranking from the gun lobby and he's for the legalization of marijuana. He wants us armed and stoned.”

By 2015, however, Warren was an active member of the unofficial cananbis club in the Senate, joining with Sens. Booker, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Gillibrand, among others, to petition for better medical marijuana research. More recently, she was one of the initial cosponsors of the bipartisan and bicameral (it was proposed in the House and the Senate) STATES Act, a bill designed to give added protection to states that have legalized marijuana.

Warren has received an A grade from NORML.

Recreational cannabis is legal in Massachusetts.

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Gov. Bill Weld, R-Mass.

Former governor of Massachusetts (1991-1997)
Former Libertarian vice presidential candidate (2016)
Former U.S. assistant attorney general for Criminal Division (1986-1988, under President Ronald Reagan)
Former U.S. attorney for Massachusetts (1981-1986)

Weld, former governor of Massachusetts and a Republican-turned-Libertarian, has long supported cannabis legislation. He backed the 2016 bill in Massachusetts that legalized recreational marijuana in the state, and is on the board of Canadian-based cannabis corporation Acerage Holdings, along with former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

He told CNBC that he has been pro-medical marijuana since 1992, and came around to full legalization when Massachusetts was considering it in 2016.

The former Republican — and now 2020 Republican presidential primary candidate — isn't shy about saying the GOP should support descheduling marijuana. In the same CNBC interview, he said it would be great politics for President Donald Trump to deschedule cannabis at a national level and leave it to the states, because states' rights play well with the Republican Party.

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