Which Presidential Candidates Would Tolerate Legal Pot?

Marijuana federalists lead the GOP race, while the most pugilistic prohibitionist is stuck in single digits.


With Rand Paul ending his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, the GOP race has lost its strongest supporter of drug policy reform. But the remaining Republican candidates are for the most part not as retrograde in this area as you might expect, especially on the question of how the federal government should respond to state legalization of marijuana.

For years Paul has been saying that drug policy should be devolved to the states as much as possible. In a Daily Show interview last month, the Kentucky senator made explicit one implication of that approach, joining Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in calling for an end to the federal ban on marijuana. Paul also has been an eloquent and passionate advocate of sentencing reform, sponsoring legislation that would effectively abolish mandatory minimums.

Ted Cruz, who won the Iowa caucus on Monday and seems poised to finish second in the New Hampshire primary next Tuesday, is at best a pale imitation of Rand Paul. The Texas senator, who last spring bragged that he was an original cosponsor of a bill that would cut the mandatory minimums for drug offenses in half, seemed to turn against sentencing reform last fall, even while claiming he still wants to do something about "disproportionate sentences for nonviolent drug offenders." 

Cruz also has reversed himself on marijuana legalization, but in that case he moved in a reformist direction. In 2014 he criticized the Obama administration for failing to aggressively enforce the federal ban on marijuana in the 23 states that have legalized the drug for medical or recreational use. A year later, he agreed with Paul that the feds should not interfere.

"I actually think this is a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called 'the laboratories of democracy,'" Cruz said at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February 2015. "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."

Donald Trump, who finished second in Iowa and is leading the polls in New Hampshire by a wide margin, took a similar stance at CPAC. The billionaire developer and reality TV star, 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." Trump reiterated his support for marijuana federalism while campaigning in Nevada last October. "In terms of marijuana and legalization," he said, "I think that should be a state issue, state by state."

Marco Rubio, who finished just a point behind Trump in Iowa and could take second or third place in New Hampshire, has been less clear on the subject. In an interview with talk radio host Hugh Hewitt last April, the Florida senator said he was against marijuana legalization while conceding that "states have a right to do what they want." At the same time, he said, "they don't have a right to write federal policy," and "we need to enforce our federal laws."

But the real question is how Rubio would enforce federal law. The Obama administration continues to prosecute people for marijuana offenses even in states that have legalized the drug for medical or recreational use. But its general policy is not to prosecute people who comply with state law. Would Rubio raid state-licensed marijuana businesses? He seems keen to avoid answering that question.

Rubio came close in an ABC News interview last April. When the interviewer, Jonathan Karl, asked whether the federal government should enforce pot prohibition in states that legalize marijuana, Rubio replied: "Marijuana is illegal under federal law. That should be enforced. I understand that states have decided to legalize possession under state law, but the trafficking, the sale of these products, that's a federal crime." When Karl tried to nail down the implications of that answer, Rubio switched to talking about why legalizing marijuana is a bad idea.

Similarly, in a Meet the Press interview last August, host Chuck Todd asked Rubio whether he would "use the federal government to supersede those state laws." His reply: "Well, federal government needs to enforce federal law." Todd tried to draw him out more, and Rubio reiterated, "I believe the federal government needs to enforce federal law."

Among the single-digit candidates who remain in the race, Ben Carson says he would enforce the federal ban but make an exception for medical use, while Jeb BushCarly Fiorina, and John Kasich all say they oppose marijuana legalization but think states should be free to adopt that policy (Kasich says "probably").

By contrast, Chris Christie has made no bones about his intent to shut down marijuana legalization if he is elected president. Last April, New Jersey's governor told Hugh Hewitt: "I will crack down and not permit it….Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law, and the states should not be permitted to sell it and profit from it." During a town hall meeting in New Hampshire last July, Christie offered a warning to cannabis consumers in Colorado: "If you're getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it. As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws."

As I noted last year, that is actually not a very popular position among Republican voters. Surveys indicate that even though most Republicans (unlike Americans generally) do not want to legalize marijuana, most think states should be able to do so without federal interference, which is the position most of the presidential candidates have taken. It is therefore not surprising that Republican voters don't seem to be rewarding Christie for his conspicuous cannabis combativeness.

The top two Republican contenders have explicitly rejected the heavy-handed meddling Christie favors, while the candidate in third place seems leery of fully embracing it. Meanwhile, Christie, who unabashedly proclaims his determination to impose marijuana prohibition on states that have opted out of it, finished eighth in Iowa, is running sixth in New Hampshire polling, and has never scored higher than 5 percent in national surveys. Bad news for Christie is good news for advocates of a less violent, more tolerant drug policy.

This article originally appeared at

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  1. If you watched the playoffs last year with Christie in the owners box bouncing around like a child and hugging on the teams owner and the owner looking at him with disgust you wouldn’t ever vote for him. He has already told the American people that he doesn’t care what they want that he knows what is best for them

    1. Christie understands that weed is a gateway drug to overeating. He has so little self control that even his gastric bypass cannot beat. Christie is already a PO(TU)S. Leave off the TU as in, No mas mota por TU’ when he gets elected. We all suffer because he was too big for the kiddie table.

    2. dude that is funny

  2. I believe all laws should be at the state level. One size rarely fits all.

    1. Someone with the girth of Chris Christie should understand that better than most of us.

  3. Christie needs to smoke a joint and calm the fuck down.

  4. I can hold my nose and vote for Cruz, and that’s really it.

    1. Cruz
    2. Johnson
    3. No one
    4. Fiorina
    5. Jeb!
    6. Sanders (w/Republican Congress)
    7. Kasich
    8. Trump
    9. Rubio
    10. Carson
    11. Christie

    1. Sanders could appoint up to FOUR SCJ’s in his term if elected. That is reason enough to put him at the bottom of the list. Not to mention all the lesser judicial lifetime appointments.

      1. Any President has to get their choice of SCJ through the Senate first.

        Remember Bork?

        1. #77 for the Bruins? Hells yes I remember Bourque!

    2. Antiabortion prohibitionist republicans must be really desperate, judging by the thickness of infiltrators struggling to blank out and evade cognition of the libertarian party.

  5. Well, at least no one is saying that the Federal anti-pot laws have to be enforced because of the “Take Care Clause”.

    It is too bad that Angel Raich lost her case to have the Federal ban on marijuana that was grown and used in the same state declared unconstitutional. I think her lawyers missed a trick by focusing on the medical and non-profit nature of her case, which was really irrelevant to the Constitutional question. Something that occurred to me, which no one has ever talked about (that I know of), is this: When Prohibition (of alcohol) was repealed, it was done by repealing the 18th Amendment, but the implementing legislation (the Volstead Act) was never directly repealed, was it? It was simply understood that without Constitutional support, the Act became null and void. Yet if Congress can prohibit one substance (like marijuana), why couldn’t it prohibit another (like alcohol)? The only answer seems to be that prohibition was repealed before Wickard v. Filburn expanded the Commerce Clause powers unreasonably. Perhaps there are Congressional laws passed since the end of Prohibition which implicitly repeal the Volstead Act. But it seems odd to me that this issue has never been discussed.

    1. The issue has most explicitly been discussed. See the 1931-32 Papers of Republican Herbert Hoover. The Liberal Party (NOT communists, but repealers like the LP) checkmated the cowardly Dems into coming out for repeal. The Klan, Anti-Saloon League and Methodist White Terror insisted more teenagers should be shot dead or imprisoned and assets forfeit over Satan’s narcotic beer and the GOP concurred. Meanwhile the entire US economy collapsed and every bank in the nation closed before FDR invoked fines and imprisonment to close them down in March. As agents rifled and confiscated bank accounts, people withdrew their money just like in 2007-2012. Today weed has taken over the Satanic Possession functions formerly occupied by beer and the Demon Rum.

    2. The easy out for the next president would be an amendment to the law to allow exceptions to the federal narcotic classification for intra state marijuana consumption and commerce within a state that has legalized it. That would remove the conflict between the state and feds. And while not outright legalization, it would be a big step forward.

  6. Governor Christie’s position on marijuana is the same position that Los Zetas, La Familia, Knights Templar, the Sinaloa cartel, the Juarez cartel, Beltran Leyva, Jalisco Nueva Generacion, Guerreros Unidos, Los Rojos, Los Granados, and the Tijuana cartel have on the issue. Let me state that again: their collective position on this issue is in lockstep with one another. Now I’m not insinuating that these murderous beasts are donating to the Governor’s campaign, or working the phone banks for him – – no sir. They actually get his support for free.

  7. Pshaw, even Rand would not come out for full blown legalization of silly ole weed. Compare that with his dad, who even defended legalizing heroin. That right there is, in a nut shell, whu Rand bombed and lost his base. At least Bernie supports legalization. So we could at least smoke up as he bankrupts the federal government.

    1. The GOP bankrupted the political state in 1893 (meddling in customs inspection before inauguration day), 1929 (asset forfeiture and mandatory minimums), 1987 (piss in Dixie cup or be fired, asset forfeiture, death penalty for weed), 1998 (when Clinton sent them sarcastic AML proposal 09/23/99 +Kingpin Act), 2007 when Death Sentence Jr. unleashed state & federal asset forfeiture of all real estate growing weed and whatever so variable rate mortgages became a liability. The Dems are pikers when it comes to destroying the economy.

      1. For God’s sake man, get some help.

  8. My roomate’s sister makes $86 an hour on the internet . She has been without work for 5 months but last month her pay was $17168 just working on the internet for a few hours. linked here…..
    Clik this link in Your Browser……..


  9. My roomate’s sister makes $86 an hour on the internet . She has been without work for 5 months but last month her pay was $17168 just working on the internet for a few hours. linked here…..
    Clik this link in Your Browser……..

    ??????????? http://www.HomeSalary10.Com

  10. My ex-sister in law’s boyfriend’s corpse makes $19,858 a week on the internet while slowly decomposing in her basement…….

    1. He is de-composing right besides Mozart, right? I have a HUUUUUGE boner to stick right between the two of them, him and Mozart… Then the maggots will slowly crawl up my urethra…. YUUUUMMMMYYYY!!!!!

      (Y’alll are SICK-SICK-SICK fer reading this trash, I’m tellin’ ya! ***AND*** I am tellin’ ON ya ass well!!! Anti-porn crusaders, BUST all of the pepples that read these words just now! (I’m on a STING operation! ) )

      1. Why did you stop? i was almost there!

  11. What this country doesn’t need is another method of losing one’s ability to function, and working towards lung cancer at the same time. If one argues that the decision should devolve to those at the level closest to the issue, they logically should support local rule, not rule by the states.

    1. Well Arthur. You might want to look up the Donald Tashkin study which found cannabis smoking was prophylactic against cancer.

      And you say: What this country doesn’t need is another method of losing one’s ability to function

      Too late. That method is already in wide spread use. The only question today is whether you want to support criminal gangs and the Black Market. Or not.

      So tell me. Why do you favor criminal gangs for cannabis distribution?

      1. “Aging” is “another method of losing one’s ability to function”… I am all to familiar with it.

        Kill the geezers! They’re not functioning rightly, they are not adding to the GNP and the tax bases fer me!!!! Just WHAT have geezers done for MEEEEE lately?!?!?!?

        Country, need? How about what we all “need” as individuals? Maybe a little individual FREEDOM? I am NOT a fed-guv-USA-unit, I am an INDIVIDUAL!!!!!

    2. “The country” clearly needs more murdering cops shooting our kids and Crissy solicitors lying to rule it justified. The antiabortion prohibitionists are panicking here… I am soooo gonna laugh if Bernie confiscates their prisons and homes.

  12. Hey, this is a really good article, giving me almost exactly what I need from a sight like this: someone else to go out and find some supporting information on what candidates are doing.

    really good job Jacob Sullum.

    1. Sullum writes well and informatively. Pity the example is wasted on the YAF and Landover Baptist interns.

  13. My roomate’s sister makes $86 an hour on the internet . She has been without work for 5 months but last month her pay was $17168 just working on the internet for a few hours. linked here…..
    Clik this link in Your Browser……..

    ??????????? http://www.HomeSalary10.Com

  14. The War on Drugs is to “conservatives” as the War on Guns” is to “liberals.” It’s amazing that neither political group wants to acknowledge the similarity. If gun control were as big a failure as recreational drug control (and it’s hard to see why it wouldn’t be) then we would have flourishing gun cartels, street gangs with another item to sell, and taxpayers would be saddled with another $40 billion per year “jobs program” for law enforcement bureaucrats.

    1. That’s why we need another “jobs program” called “cracking down on all the people who emit carbon dioxide”… Don’t they KNOW that this causes globabble warmerering?!?!?!

      (A “crash development program” to invent ways to live, withOUT emitting C-O-2 from yer bodies, within 5 years, as MANDATED by Congress and POTUS, with LARGE amounts of $$$$ devoted to favored folks in business and academia, would cinch the deal).

    2. Vote against them all and let vote fraud and their judicial lapdogs sort them out… again… Citation: Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98

  15. “I believe the federal government needs to enforce federal law.”

    If and only if the federal law in question is Constitutional.

    The federal government was never given the power to dictate what we’re “allowed” to ingest, inject, or inhale into our own bodies.

    1. Tell thet to th’ … nevermind. Good handle, BTW. George Orwell tore his hair out over Henry Miller’s lack of socialist guilt trip and murderous zeal. Miller was a prototype libertarian when Ayn was just getting married.

  16. I take it none of Reason’s editors live in Newark, Miami or Baltimore.

    1. REMant|2.8.16 @ 8:41PM|#

      “I take it none of Reason’s editors live in Newark, Miami or Baltimore”

      You mean those places where prohibition has been a huge success?

      YUUUGE, I’m tellin ya….

  17. “I will crack down and not permit it?.Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law, and the states should not be permitted to sell it and profit from it.”

    Because profit is evil! /sarc

    During a town hall meeting in New Hampshire last July, Christie offered a warning to cannabis consumers in Colorado: “If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it. As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”

    His ego is even more bloated than his waistline.

  18. Thank goodness Christie will be out of this soon.

  19. I would have thought obutthead would have legalized it, along with cocaine, and “chooms”.
    The problem with drug use, abuse, and addiction is that it’s a medical condition, not a criminal act. Criminalizing a medical condition is a criminal act.

  20. brussels sprouts

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