Hillary Clinton

WikiLeaks Shows Hillary Clinton Was Against Pot Legalization In 'All Senses Of the Word'

A longtime drug warrior, Clinton has softened her public positions on marijuana. But does she mean it?


Drug warrior or late to the party?
Keith Kissel/Flickr

There isn't much to divine from John Podesta's hacked emails (published earlier this week by WikiLeaks) when it comes to Hillary Clinton's supposed evolution on marijuana legalization.

But in an email circulated among senior Clinton campaign staffers concerned about the content of Clinton's paid corporate speeches and appearances—which includes an 80-page attachment detailing "a lot of policy positions that we should give an extra scrub"—a brief portion of Clinton's Q & A with Xerox CEO Ursula Burns in 2014 shows Clinton's staunch opposition to any form of marijuana legalization:

URSULA BURNS: So long means thumbs up, short means thumbs down; or long means I support, short means I don't. I'm going to start with — I'm going to give you about ten long-shorts.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Even if you could make money on a short, you can't answer short.

URSULA BURNS: You can answer short, but you got to be careful about letting anybody else know that. They will bet against you. So legalization of pot?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Short in all senses of the word. (emphasis added)

That was in March 2014, and even if it's the briefest of exchanges, it says something that the Clinton campaign suspected this message of staunch prohibitionism needed "an extra scrub."

Clinton was on the record opposing medical marijuana in 2007—she supported "research," but not decriminalization—but just three months after saying she opposed marijuana legalization "in all senses of the word," she said on a CNN town hall that "there should be availability (of marijuana) under appropriate circumstances." She also said she would allow Colorado and Washington—which had just fully legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults—to serve as "laboratories of democracy" and reserved the right to offer her opinion on the subject at an unspecified later date.

Also in 2014, she offered the standard "gateway drug" trope as a defense of prohibition in a KPCC radio interview:

I think the feds should be attuned to the way marijuana is still used as a gateway drug and how the drug cartels from Latin America use marijuana to get footholds in states, so there can't be a total absence of law enforcement, but what I want to see, and I think we should be much more focused on this, is really doing good research so we know what it is we're approving.

The Hillary Clinton running for president in 2016—who had to "evolve" a number of her long-held policies and supposed principles just to make it through her bruising primary battle with Bernie Sanders—now fully supports both medical marijuana and the removal of the drug from the DEA's Schedule I classification.

The question is, which Hillary Clinton should be believed?

The lifelong drug warrior who as recently as 2011 seemed to misunderstand both prohibition and supply-and-demand when she said drug legalization was an impossibility "because there is just too much money in it"? Or the chastened Democratic presidential nominee hoping to energize the youth vote and perhaps even convince some libertarians she can be trusted in her promises regarding criminal justice reform?