By all accounts, Carly Fiorina impressed many voters and pundits in the first (undercard) debate and has increased her standing among her primary competitors. Since she has moved up in the polls, the cannabis community needs to examine her record on marijuana policy. While she certainly remains a longshot for the presidential nod, she will likely be on the short-list of vice-presidential candidates for the eventual GOP nominee. Despite describing marijuana legalization as “a very bad idea,” Carly Fiorina said she respects the right of states to legalize the plant, as was done in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Fiorina, the former HP executive turned presidential candidate (the only woman running in the Republican primary), has an interesting perspective on marijuana policy, and while she holds some pretty anti-drug positions, she has also acknowledged the need for a new approach to the way drugs are treated in the United States:
“I believe in states’ rights. I would not as president of the United States enforce federal law in Colorado where Colorado voters have said they want to legalize marijuana,” Fiorina told the editorial board of The Des Moines Register in an interview. “As I think I’ve tried to convey, I don’t think that overreacting to illegal drug use is the answer.”
“I’m a states’ rights advocate. I respect Colorado’s right to do what they did. Okay? They are within their rights to legalize marijuana, and they are conducting an experiment that I hope the rest of the nation is looking closely at,” Fiorina said. “You’re asking my personal opinion. My personal opinion is the legalization of marijuana does not help us. Are they within their rights? Yes.”
On this issue, Carly Fiorina sides with the likes of Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul, all Republican candidates that, while not openly enthusiastic about marijuana legalization, have expressed their support for states’ right to legalize marijuana in spite of federal prohibition. Other candidates, such as Chris Christie or Marco Rubio, disagree with Fiorina and have vowed to nullify state marijuana laws should they make it to the Oval Office.
Carly Fiorina’s drug policy views come in great part from her personal experiences. In 2009, Fiorina was diagnosed with breast cancer and declined to use medical marijuana as part of her treatment, having been told that “It is a chemically complex compound and we don’t understand how it interacts with other medicines, we don’t understand how it interacts with other things you’re doing in your life.”
While there are significant obstacles to conducting marijuana research in the United States, “prescribing information for […] medical marijuana does contain drug interaction information,” and numerous studies point to marijuana’s effectiveness and safety in the treatment of diseases like cancer. In fact, marijuana is one of the most researched plants in the world, having been the subject of over 20,000 scientific studies.
The issue of drugs is a personal one for Carly Fiorina, who six years ago lost her stepdaughter to drug addiction. While she openly opposes marijuana legalization and appears to hold generally anti-drug views, Fiorina’s statements also suggest she may be more compassionate to drug users after witnessing the real-life impact of American drug policies:
Still, Fiorina argued on Thursday for changes to criminal justice policies related to drug use and to a culture that often stigmatizes treatment.
“We know that we don’t spend enough money on the treatment of drug abuse. When you criminalize drug abuse, you’re actually not treating it. We had a daughter who died of addictions, so this lands very close to home for me,” Fiorina said, referring to her stepdaughter Lori, who died in 2009 at age 34. “When we are criminalizing abuse, it is a cost to society. We’re not helping the people who need help.”
As far as her position on marijuana legalization itself (as opposed to decriminalization or the conflict between federal and state laws), Carly Fiorina remains a supporter of prohibition. In 2010, when she was running for Governor in California, Fiorina opposed the state’s Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana and regulated it like alcohol. When the topic is brought up, Carly Fiorina seems intent on debunking the supposed equivalence between marijuana and alcohol, arguing that “we need to tell people the truth that marijuana is not like having a beer with your buddies.”
In this sense, Fiorina is not wrong: marijuana is much safer. Unlike alcohol, marijuana use is not associated with crimes of violence, and numerous studies suggest it is virtually impossible to die as a result of its consumption. According to recent studies, allowing people to purchase marijuana has been shown to reduce drug-related harm, including overdose deaths, and it has been suggested that opening up marijuana bars could help curb the societal impact of alcohol, which each year is responsible for “approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost.”