Presidential candidates discussed marijuana legalization during Tuesday night’s debate, revealing clear differences in opinion.
Following the silence of marijuana reform at the Democratic presidential debates last week in Las Vegas, candidates announced their policy outlook front and center Tuesday in Charleston, South Carolina.
The majority of candidates on stage supported marijuana legalization, with the known exceptions of Michael Bloomberg and Joe Biden, both of whom believe more research is necessary before pushing forward. Among those supporters, however, the debate exposed differences in achieving legalization and how quickly it was possible to do so.
Here were the notable statements made by candidates.
The conversation started with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was asked about Bernie Sanders’ plan to legalize cannabis his first day in office through executive action. Sanders has also proposed expunging all prior marijuana convictions and moderators inquired whether the plan was realistic.
“It is realistic to want to legalize marijuana. I want to do that, too,” Klobuchar said. “I also think you need to look back at people’s records. You maybe can’t do it on day one, as he said. I think you want to have a process you go through because there are too many people that have things on their records that stopped them from getting jobs.”
Klobuchar isn’t alone in questioning whether Sanders can unilaterally legalize cannabis. In addition to legalizing marijuana, Klobuchar emphasized the need to establish treatment centers to battle opioid and other substance abuse addiction.
Following the exchange, Sanders was given a chance to argue why his proposal to end marijuana prohibition will work. He explained how the War on Drugs has broken the criminal justice system, as the federal Controlled Substances Act equates the dangers of marijuana to using heroin. Sanders will remove cannabis as a controlled substance, which would effectively legalize marijuana in every state in the country,” he said.
“What we are also going to do is move to expunge the records of those people arrested for possession of marijuana,” Sanders said. “And I’ll tell you what else we’re going to do. We’re going to provide help to the African American, Latino, Native American community to start businesses to sell legal marijuana rather than let a few corporations control the legalized marijuana market.”
The former New York Mayor has made no secret his opposition to marijuana. Debate moderators asked Bloomberg about past statements on marijuana — just last year, he called legalization “perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done.” As he said on the debate stage, Bloomberg now favors decriminalizing small amounts of cannabis possession, while still punishing dealers. He also would move to expunge past marijuana convictions.
In a revealing note, Bloomberg underlined that his administration would not take away legalization from states that have already done so. He didn’t state whether he would block any more states from legalizing cannabis, though.
“You should listen to the scientists and the doctors. They say go very slowly, they haven’t done enough research and the evidence so far is worrisome. Before we get all our kids — particularly kids in their late teens, boys even more than girls — where this may be damaging their brains. Until we know the science, it’s just nonsensical to push ahead,” he said.
Bloomberg didn’t mention that many scientists complain that federal policies block them from conducting significant research on marijuana. In the past, researchers have received moldy marijuana, with flowers ground along stems and seeds, lessening the impact of possible studies.
“But the cat’s out of the bag,” Bloomberg added. “Some states have it, you’re not going to take it away. Decriminalize the possession.”