Republicans Finally Talk About Marijuana in the GOP Debates


Federal cannabis policy is a major issue that impacts lives, jobs and budgets across the nation and actually impacts the global Drug War as well. It would only make sense for 2016 presidential candidates to address the fact that four states and our nation’s capital has legalized marijuana, with a host of states expected to end prohibition in the coming years. Colorado and Washington have already generated $200 million in new revenue from marijuana sales, with Colorado’s cannabis taxes outpacing state alcohol tax revenue.

Not only does a president’s position impact the economics of states with regulated marijuana systems, but it also demonstrates the consistency of his or her conservative or libertarian principles as well as the candidate’s law enforcement priorities. It was great to see the Republicans finally talk about marijuana in the GOP debates after completely ignoring the issue in the first debate.

Thanks to social media, the 206 GOP hopefuls were finally asked about marijuana and as, The Washington Post reports, the issue turned personal towards Jeb Bush:

“Forty years ago, I smoked marijuana. I admit,” said Bush, the former Florida governor, after Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) had called him out without naming him. “My mom’s not happy that I just did.”

Paul, who opposes strict laws punishing marijuana users, used Bush’s case to illustrate how the law treats wealthy drug users differently: “Kids who have privilege like you do don’t go to jail. But the poor kids in the inner city still go to jail.”

And then, the candidate that has become the political nemesis to the cannabis community, who he calls “diseasedchimed in:

That prompted a response from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who — while urging compassion for young drug users — also said he would use federal power to override some states’ laws to allow some marijuana possession and use. “I am against the recreational use of marijuana,” Christie, saying that drug users’ families, employers and children are victims of the use.

As the International Business Times reports, Carly Fiorina equated marijuana with more dangerous drugs, instead of the more sensible comparison to alcohol: “We are misleading young people when we tell them that marijuana is just like having beer. It’s not

Steve Bloom over at Celebstoner has extensive coverage of the Republican back-and-forth and offered up some grades of the cannabis policy exchanges:

Clearly, Paul landed the best blows. But his refusal to separate medical from recreational marijuana was disingenuous, as Christie duly noted. Speaking of disingenuous, Christie boasting that he favors medical marijuana when he did everything in his power to stall implementation and limit access was a big joke on patients in New Jersey, who weren’t laughing. With only three of the mandated six dispensaries open for business, New Jersey’s MMJ program still has a long way to go. Plus, Christie dragging out the old “gateway drug” warhorse smacked of Reefer Madness desperation.

Bush should be commended for his candor in admitting to using marijuana when he was 22. So that was the last time, right, Jeb? And Fiorina’s well-rehearsed sob story about her daughter Lori Ann’s death from alcohol and prescription drug abuse really had nothing to do with marijuana. It was sheer grandstanding.


Paul: B+

Bush: C

Christie: D-

Fiorina: F

It was refreshing to see the 2016 GOP candidates discuss cannabis policy, especially hearing Rand Paul finally have an opportunity to show his libertarian foundation on criminal justice and Drug War reform. Jeb Bush wisely took a states’ rights position, but was called upon his past positions and hypocrisy. Christie and Fiorina were clearly out of touch of the mainstream on the issue. I look forward to hearing from Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, his fellow outsider Ben Carson and the rest of the GOP field on the record in the next and future debates.

(Featured photo credit: AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.