High Hopes

Where do your Democratic presidential hopefuls stand on weed?

If you watched last Friday night's Democratic presidential debate ahead of this week's New Hampshire primary, you saw debate moderator Lindsey Davis light up candidate Pete Buttigieg over the increased arrests of black citizens for marijuana offenses during the eight years he's been mayor of South Bend, Indiana. 

Sweat formed on Buttigieg's brow as the young mayor tried to dodge Davis' question by stuttering something about the overall rate of arrests decreasing under his watch. Davis knew better. The ABC News correspondent had come prepared and she was ready to turn the heat up on the candidate.

"No, there was an increase," Davis said after looking at her notes. "The year before you were in office it was lower." 

Buttigieg tried to sidestep Davis' question right after he announced he would legalize marijuana and expunge arrest records when answering a previous question regarding whether he was for legalizing all drugs. (Spoiler alert: he isn't, but offenders would no longer face incarceration for drug possession arrests under his potential leadership.)

This got me thinking about a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center from November 2019 which showed that 62 percent of Amercians are in favor of legalizing marijuana. With only eight states still keeping marijuana illegal in all forms, one could assume it is only a matter of time before the nation legalizes the plant. 

But where do the top 2020 Democratic candidates stand on legalizing marijuana?

Pete Buttigieg: By this point in the article it should become clear that Buttigieg is for legalizing marijuana, expunging marijuana arrest records and banning incarceration for petty drug possession offenses. But the U.S. isn't going to start resembling Colombia from the first season of Narcos anytime soon under Buttigieg. He still supports incarceration for production and sales of illegal drugs. 

Bernie Sanders: Sanders has made the legalization of marijuana a major pledge of his campaign. While stumping ahead of the Iowa Caucus, we heard Uncle Bernie state he would "End the destructive war on drugs" and then proclaim "On my first day in office through executive order we will legalize marijuana in every state in this country." Like Buttigieg, Sanders also supports expunging records for those with minor possession offenses. 

Elizabeth Warren: The senator from Massachusetts also pledges to legalize marijuana through executive order on day one, if elected. This is not a surprise since Warren has supported numerous pro-marijuana over the years like the 2018 STATES Act and 2019 CARERS Act, both of which support marijuana reform at a federal level while recognizing states rights to regulate the plant. 

Joe Biden: It's been said the former vice president has been in politics so long he remembers helping start the War on Drugs. That's not a joke. Biden was the former head of the Senate Judiciary Committee where he pushed the policies which have increased drug offense incarcerations since the late 80s. In 1989, Biden openly criticized then-president George H.W. Bush's War on Drugs battle plan, stating Bush's plan wasn't "tough enough, bold enough or imaginative enough to meet the crisis at hand." Since then, 2020 candidate Biden has mellowed out his harsh stance toward marijuana, saying it's "at the point where it has to be, basically, legalized" during a campaign stop in New Hampshire over the weekend. Biden also came out in support for decriminalizing marijuana, federally approving medical marijuana and having marijuana arrest records expunged at the same New Hampshire campaign stop. 

Amy Klobuchar: The former prosecutor came out in support for legalizing marijuana and for states' rights to legalize the plant in a 2019 Washington Post article. However, Klobuchar came out against the plant while running for election in 1989, stating she was opposed to marijuana legalization during a debate. Since then, Sen. Klobuchar cosponsored the 2018 STATES Act but did not sign onto the current Marijuana Justice Act, which would legalize the plant free and clear at a federal level. Candidate Klobuchar said she would "start the evaluation process to reschedule marijuana within the first 100 days in office" and would "create federal incentives" for states to restore rights to nonviolent offenders, according to her website. 

Michael Bloomberg: The former New York City mayor stated that legalizing marijuana is "perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done" during a 2019 speech at the U.S. Naval Academy. Candidate Bloomberg hasn't changed his stance toward legalization since jumping on the campaign trail late last year. However, he does support the plant's decriminalization, saying: "We shouldn't put anybody in jail over it." Bloomberg also supports states' rights to legalize the plant, but advises future states to act slowly because he doesn't believe there is enough research on the social impact of marijuana at this time. 

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