Most GOP Presidential Candidates Support Marijuana Federalism

At least eight of the remaining 15 candidates think the feds should not interfere with state legalization.



Last week I noted that Mike Huckabee, despite his opposition to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, seems willing to let states go their own way on this issue. "Let's let Colorado have at it for a few years, and let's see how that works out for them," the former Arkansas governor said in an interview with KCCI, the CBS station in Des Moines. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) points out that Huckabee explicitly invoked the 10th Amendment in the same interview, saying, "I'm willing to let states operate under the 10th Amendment, and I'm willing for the states, if they think that marijuana and the legalization of it is a great thing, you know, I'm willing for them to experiment and find out." With that statement, which led MPP to raise Huckabee's marijuana policy grade from a D to a B–, he joins at least seven of the remaining Republican presidential candidates in saying the federal government should not interfere with legalization:

Rand Paul. "I'm not for having the federal government get involved," the Kentucky senator told Roll Call last year. "I really haven't taken a stand on…the actual legalization. I haven't really taken a stand on that, but I'm against the federal government telling them they can't."

Ted Cruz. "I actually think this is a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called 'the laboratories of democracy,'" the Texas senator said at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February, referring to marijuana legalization in Colorado. "If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that's their prerogative. I personally don't agree with it, but that's their right."

Jeb Bush. "I thought [legalization] was a bad idea," the former Florida governor said at CPAC, "but states ought to have the right to do it."

Carly Fiorina. "Colorado voters made a choice," the former Hewlett Packard CEO said in a Fox News interview last June. "I don't support their choice, but I do support their right to make that choice."

George Pataki. "I'm a great believer in the 10th Amendment," the former New York governor told Hugh Hewitt in April. "So I would be very strongly inclined to change the federal law to give states, when they've had a referenda [sic], the opportunity with respect to marijuana to decriminalize it."

John Kasich. The Ohio governor thinks marijuana legalization is "a terrible idea" but is inclined to let states do it anyway. "I would try to discourage the states from doing it," Kasich told MLive.com last month. "Hopefully we'll defeat it in Michigan and Ohio, but if states want to do it…I haven't made a final decision, but I would be tempted to say I don't think we can go and start disrupting what they've decided."

Donald Trump. At this year's CPAC the billionaire developer, who in 1990 advocated legalization as the only way to win the war on drugs, said he opposes marijuana legalization, which has led to "some big problems" in Colorado. But when asked whether states should be free to legalize marijuana, he said, "If they vote for it, they vote for it." 

So far Chris Christie and Rick Santorum, both of whom get an F on MPP's report card, are the only Republican candidates to explicitly say they would use federal power to shut down marijuana legalization in states such as Colorado and Washington. Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal have made statements leaning in that direction. Ben Carson, who opposes legalization and said last week that he would "intensify" the war on drugs, also has indicated that he probably would enforce the federal ban on marijuana in states that legalize it, although he would make an exception for medical use.

Per MPP, Lindsey Graham "has not taken a strong position on states' rights to establish their own marijuana policies," although in a 2010 letter to a constituent he said, "I don't see a real need to change the law up here [in Washington]." Jim Gilmore opposes legalization, but as far as I know he has not taken a position on the extent of state of autonomy in this area.

In short, most of the remaining GOP candidates favor marijuana federalism, a breakdown that reflects opinion among Republican voters. In a 2012 CBS News survey, only 27 percent of Republicans supported Colorado-style legalization, but 65 percent thought "laws regarding whether the use of marijuana is legal or not should be…left to each individual state government to decide." In a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, just 39 percent of Republicans favored legalization, but 54 percent said the feds should not "enforce federal marijuana laws" in states that have legalized the drug.

[This post has been modified to correct the date of Trump's comments about drug legalization.]