What are the Presidential Candidates’ Positions on Medical Marijuana and Legal Marijuana?

Jay Leiderman
By: Jay Leiderman
October 02 2016

What are the Presidential Candidates’ Positions on Marijuana Legalization and on Medical Marijuana?

The chatter about cannabis has grown a little louder on the American campaign trail this election season.

The major party candidates, as well as so-called third party candidates have endorsed full legalization to full medical marijuana programs to more limited and restrictive programs to potential federal intervention.  Marijuana is a hot topic for many voters. Indeed there are a lot of “single issue voters” looking only at marijuana initiatives in the 9 states with medical or legalization measures on the ballot. Accordingly the nominees for the Democratic and Republican parties have broached the subject a lot, and it is a mainstay of the Green and Libertarian Party stump speeches.  Now that half of the states in the nation have laws related to medical marijuana in place, the topic is unavoidable. Marijuana isn’t just important to single issue voters in the 9 states with ballot measures.  It is also a topic of concern for those that live in states with already-existing medical or full legalization programs, as a new presidency may present new problems to established distribution methods in the states.  Moreover, given that the Federal Government has the last say on the issue under the 1971 Controlled Substances Act, the President could play a vital role moving forward. Marijuana is presently a Schedule 1 controlled, meaning it has no useful purpose and has a high potential for abuse.

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors ~ Plato

A report card guide to the views of presidential candidates on marijuana was developed by the Marijuana Policy Project. Two candidates have been given an A + rating, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Democrat Hillary Clinton got a B + and Republican Donald Trump got a C +, though his statements over time seem to contradict each other and bear close scrutiny.  The grades call for a closer examination of the issues.

Prior to the main discussion I want to make sure everyone that reads this votes for president.  Moreover, make sure every person you know votes for president.  Don’t just show up to vote on this one issue.  Here’s why.  Remember the days of the DEA and state “multi-jurisdictional” task forces were using para-military gear to take down grows and dispensaries?  I do.  And I don’t want those days back.  What’s the point of legalizing weed on the state level if the federal government is going to send troops into your state to wipe out thirty years of gains in legalization and medicalization?

Perhaps more critical to this equation is that there is an open Supreme Court seat.  As a lawyer, I can say that the candidates Trump said he would consider were terrifying as they relate to controlled substances.  These are the types of people that believe in reefer madness.  Clinton has not talked about who she would appoint, but the candidate will be more cannabis-friendly.  When compared to Trump’s nominee list, how can they not be?  Of course, Trump can deviate from his list of nominees and pick another nominee.  A new Supreme Court Justice can affect drug policy for decades.

Just as important is who will be our next Attorney General and our next head of the DEA.  Keep this in mind while going through the post.

I start with the lower-graded candidates and work my way to the A + candidates.

Donald Trump

GOP candidate Donald Trump received a C + from the MMP largely for his claims that he supports legal access to medical marijuana, and he believes that the Medical States should be able to set their own marijuana policies regarding use by adults. He has also spoken negatively of adult cannabis use, a seeming contradiction to his statement to Fox that: “I know people who have serious problems and they did that they really – [medical marijuana] really help them.”  I discuss his position in greater detail than the rest of the candidates because his position is more complex and less certain than any other candidate.

medical marijuana
What happened to 1990 Trump’s enlightened positions on drug treatment and legalization?

Looking historically, there is precedent for thinking Trump would not waste resources enforcing drug laws. During a luncheon hosted by the Miami Herald in April 1990 he actually advocated for full-legalization in a speech about how we need to take back the drug trade from the Kingpins and as direct benefits we will see the violence and other collateral issues will subsist.  As a businessman, 1990 Trump was a pragmatist.  If you can make money on the sale and then the inevitable treatment, win-win.  Right?  If, in the process, you lower the murder rate and save police resources, even better.

Well, this rhetoric is long past for Trump and if you wanted to hear it from any candidate you’ll have to wait until you hit the Gary Johnson section below.  Trump, and Clinton as well, seem to view medical marijuana and legalization as two different children entirely and Trump favors one child immensely.

“Marijuana is such a big thing,” Trump said. “I think medical should happen — right? Don’t we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.”

“I would say (the regulation of marijuana) is bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it’s bad and I feel strongly about that… (Moderator: “What about the legal aspect of the States”) If they for vote it, they vote for it… But I think, medical marijuana, 100%. ”

But Trump himself has used some hard language when speaking of legalization and adult use: When asked about Colorado, his response was disheartening:“I think it’s bad and I feel strongly about it. They’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems.”

“I think it’s bad and I feel strongly about it. They’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems.”

Worse yet, now Trump is already using his close friend Chris Christie as his White House transitional leader – – and the idea of Christie as Attorney General is not so far-fetched.   The New Jersey Governor responded to questions about medical marijuana negatively throughout his 8 years as governor, and I would presume he will be very influential in terms of Trump’s criminal justice policy, and with that, Trump’s drug policy.  After all, Christie is a former prosecutor and United States Attorney.  Speaking a year ago about whether a potential President Christie would enforce federal drug laws in states that have passed legalization measures an emphatic Christie said: “Absolutely. I will crack down and not permit it.”

Perhaps it is unfair to judge Trump solely by his association with Christie, but that is the only evidence we have before us.  One has to ask: What type of Attorney General would Trump pick?

In fairness to Trump’s position on legalization, in anther interview Trump said of adult legal use that he does support states’ rights to legalize, saying, a second time several months later: “If they vote for it, they vote for it.”  So twice he has said that he would respect state’s rights.  State’s rights are a big issue for REpublicans and it is a good bet Trump would think twice before invoking federal supremacy – – except possibly for this issue.  Republicans, generally speaking, are not fans of marijuana.

Trump has been inconsistent and inconsistent van be very dangerous.   Those of us that remember frequent pre-Obama DEA raids on dispensaries want some degree of certainty.

Coming back to medical use, Trump has said that he supports medical cannabis “100 percent.”  What that would actually mean in a Trump world is unclear.  His closeness to Christie, who held back progress for New Jersey’s program for years, concerns me. 100% could mean a limited and constrained program.  Small limits.  A small number of conditions will be covered.

What if the Federal Government, with a heavy-handed new Attorney General, decides to make marijuana eradication and medical regulation an issue?  What would a Federal medical marijuana program look like – – and how many patients currently benefitting from medicalization would be shut out?

These issues may be theoretical and may never come to pass.  But I’d rather have you theorize than get caught by surprise.


Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton, 45 minutes after being served the best brownie she has ever had.

It’s not good that two days ago this was the headline: Chelsea Clinton Walks Back Remarks Suggesting Marijuana Can Be Deadly.

The good news, however, is that Clinton’s mother, candidate Hillary Clinton, has shown a willingness to evolve her position over time.  In 2007, she was against any type of decriminalization (so says CNN).  Now, Hillary Clinton has expressed support for legal access to medical marijuana and endorses more research into the medical benefits of marijuana. In 2014, when asked, she said that she approved of the legalization laws in Colorado and Washington. She said “states are the laboratories of democracy” (she has made that statement part of her official marijuana platform) and that she wants to see what happens in those States prior to taking a position in support or against such laws.  More importantly, she has also said that she believes the drug should be rescheduled from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2, a critical distinction which would open the door for unfettered research and greater access to patients. Her platform indicates that she thinks that the United States now needs to be supported to move in that direction, and she absolutely supports all countries that are moving towards medical marijuana, moving toward – absolutely – legalizing it for adult recreational use. 

Most likely a Clinton Presidency would show little or no change from Obama’s wait-and-see approach.  That is very settling in some narrow respects.  DEA enforcement and funding for marijuana prosecutions has dropped to nearly nil in the wake of Obama’s approach.  If the DEA will stay off of Humboldt hillsides and LA dispensaries that’s actual progress, however slow and behind the times it is that progress may be.  Under Obama’s approach, those waiting to enforce anti-marijuana laws may simply die of boredom waiting for something to do, creating a de facto legalization of sorts.

The Democratic Party has actually endorsed a pathway to legalization.  The Republican Party has not.

The Republican argument that Clinton would be a third term of Obama works here when contrasted solely with Trump, who could pose a potential threat to the adult enjoyment of recreational marijuana, should those measures pass.  Hands off is better than hands on.

A recent poll found that 43% of “cannabis professionals” (I don’t know what “cannabis professional” means and they didn’t say) supported Clinton, 26% were for Trump, and 16% for Johnson. 10% were undecided.  Votes for Vermin Supreme were not tabulated.   Jill Stein was not offered as a choice.  I don’t know how that should influence your choice, but I find it interesting that in a profession that is openly in love with Jill Stein and Gary Johnson (in California, at least), when asked to actually cast their ballot, the business side chose Clinton.

This may be the reason: The Democratic Party has actually endorsed a pathway to legalization.  The Republican Party has not.

Update: 10 October 2016; from the Wikileaks release of speeches that Clinton gave to Wall Street executives.

During an on-stage Q & A session with Xerox’s chairman and CEO in March 2014, Clinton used Wall Street terminology to express her opposition to ending cannabis prohibition “in all senses of the word”:

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…So legalization of pot?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Short in all senses of the word.

This position is entirely consistent with what is described above.  Do not expect Hillary Clinton to push for legalization on a federal level.  If anything is going to happen with respect to marijuana at the federal level, it is most likely to occur under Obama in the lame duck (post election) session.  Moreover, if anything happens, it will likely be a simple rescheduling from 1 to 2.  Other than that, I suppose the best that can be said is that at least Clinton will not disturb the states that legalize recreational use.  I wouldn’t bet on that in a Trump administration.


Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson
Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson supports full legalization of drugs

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) has endorsed Gary Johnson for president. Johnson received an A + rating and offers his full support for legalizing and regulating marijuana for medical and recreational use by adults. He supports legalizing marijuana at the federal level.  He supports the removal of the federal drug scheduling of marijuana altogether. Moreover, he would cede control of individual implementation to the “several states” – to use a constitutional term affirmed by 9th amendment jurisprudence.  He endorsed state legalization ballot initiatives and regulation of marijuana for adults in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. The former governor has openly discussed his personal use of medical marijuana and he has served as CEO of a medical marijuana business before having to resign to become a candidate for President.  No wonder MPP loves him.  If you’re a single issue voter Johnson is your candidate, as this issue seems to be his issue.


Dr. Jill Stein

Dr. Jill Stein also received an A + rating for her support for legalizing and regulating marijuana for medical use nationwide by adults.  She said:

“As a doctor and public health advocate, people ask me all the time if marijuana is dangerous. Yes, marijuana is dangerous – Because it is illegal, it is not dangerous in itself; it is certainly less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, which are perfectly legal…The real danger of marijuana is the violence of the underground drug economy created by the ban.

“Legalizing marijuana will end violence, as well as ending alcohol prohibition ended the violence of illegal alcohol economy?

Yes, marijuana is dangerous – Because it is illegal

“It is time to take marijuana off the black market, end crime and violence associated with marijuana trafficking, stop wasting money and ruined lives by prosecuting victims crime, reducing prison population, increasing tax revenue, let sick people their medicine, let farmers grow marijuana and hemp, and give responsible adults their freedom by legalizing it!

“As President, one of my first actions would be to order the DEA and the Justice Department to cease all attempts to harass or prosecute medical marijuana clinics or other legitimate marijuana-related businesses operating under state laws.

“I would also direct the DEA to move marijuana from Schedule 1, to remove it from the most dangerous category of drugs, and place it in a more appropriate category, as determined by medical science.  Like Colorado, we can regulate marijuana in the same way as alcohol.

“This would prevent billions of dollars in profits pouring into the black market, and would greatly reduce the violence associated with illegal marijuana sales, including the drug wars plaguing Mexico and Central America.

“Make no mistake, ending marijuana prohibition would be a huge victory for freedom and social justice, and an important step towards the fair, Green future we deserve to be.”

Single issue voters can no doubt agree with her rhetoric.


Clearly, to single issue voters, Stein and Johnson are appealing.  In states where a few per cent of the vote  can tip all the electoral votes one way or another, it may be more important to think about who will be ordering the DEA around; who will be our next Attorney General.  Think about it.



9 thoughts on “What are the Presidential Candidates’ Positions on Medical Marijuana and Legal Marijuana?

  1. Jay,

    Very well researched and thought out. I will be clear, in my opinion, everyone who votes for legalization 1) should vote for President; and 2) should vote for Clinton. This is not a politically partisan choice; it is pragmatic.

    Only Clinton can beat Trump and Trump is a megalomaniac who is beholden to a group of uber-conservative racist/fascists who will populate his new government. There is a substantial likelihood that his new Attorney General will reinstitute marijuana enforcement on the federal level. All of the good work in the states will be wiped out. Raids and arrests will follow.

    So, for the sake of all of our civil rights (which will be repressed across the board) and, specifically, for the sake of the progress made in legalization of marijuana, Trump must be defeated. The path to doing so is to vote for Hilary Clinton. That’s the way it is.


  2. I really like the way Mr. Leiderman presents the views of the four candidates on a single issue. I’d like to see more of this with regard to other issues.

    I guess I’m lucky because I don’t need marijuana for medical reasons. After seeing my mother die a gruesome death after 66 years of smoking cigarettes I’m committed to not breathing smoke into my lungs (except when there’s a change of wind around a camp fire). For me the issue is the environment. Marijuana should be legalized to prevent the environmental destruction we see in Northern California. And more recently we’ve learned about the problem of human trafficking there.

    But for me, Jill Stein is the only candidate I can vote for.

  3. Agreed with Bob Sanger – only Hillary can beat Trump. The consequences are too great to vote for Johnson or Stein and they are polling too close in too many “swing” states. IF HIllary opens up a decent lead, I’m still not going Johnson because that is what happened with Brexit. Everyone entered a protest vote and got a result they didn’t want. Too much at stake.

  4. “As a matter of constitutional tradition, in the absence of evidence to the
    contrary, we presume that governmental regulation of the content of speech is
    more likely to interfere with the free exchange of ideas than to encourage it.
    The interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society
    outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship.”
    Justice John Paul Stevens
    U. S. Supreme Court Justice
    Source: Majority Opinion, Communications Decency Act, 26 June 1997

  5. Hi you’re most welcome. I’ve been following your blog recently (only discovered it recently). You have many, many excellent posts; I loved your video on helping teens succeed; shared it here on January 13, .Thanks for your comment.Lisa

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