Democratic Debate: How High Are The Candidates On Legalizing Marijuana?

As Bernie Sanders continues to cut Hillary Clinton’s lead en route to the Democratic presidential primaries, Martin O’Malley joins his fellow candidates for tonight’s Democratic debate. While the candidates will have plenty to say about very serious issues like health care, immigration, and unemployment, a politician’s stance on the use of medical marijuana and the legalization of recreational pot has become a more common issue of interest. Now that many states are legalizing medicinal (and sometimes recreational) marijuana, and members of Congress are introducing legislation to end the federal prohibition on medical cannabis, it’s a question all candidates must have an answer for. Ahead of tonight’s Democratic debate, here is a quick look at all three candidates’ positions on marijuana laws.

Recent Gallup polls show that only 40 percent of Americans believe marijuana should remain illegal. Meanwhile, among Millennial voters, 68 percent believe that the federal prohibition against marijuana should be lifted, even though only 52 percent of them have actually tried pot.

Unlike her husband, front-runner Hillary Clinton hasn’t even puffed a marijuana cigarette without inhaling. She does, however, take a very common Democratic position (which is also a very popular Republican position), in which she doesn’t support legalization of marijuana, but does support the states’ right to decide. As MSNBC reported, Hillary thinks marijuana should be reclassified from a Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 narcotic, which would distance it from illicit drugs like heroin. Instead, marijuana would be classified as a drug that has medical benefits, with potential for abuse.

Long-shot candidate Martin O’Malley takes a similar stance, but does have a somewhat progressive political history in terms of marijuana laws. As the New York Times noted, as Governor of Maryland, O’Malley decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. In 2014, Maryland passed legislation — with O’Malley’s support — to legalize a 30-day supply of medical marijuana for qualified patients, with many of the details yet to be determined.

Beginning June 1 of this year, Maryland will begin to issue medical marijuana licenses to patients and dispensaries. One reason that O’Malley and Clinton share in their opposition to legalizing marijuana is that they believe marijuana is a gateway drug. Both candidates do, however, support more research into the uses and effectiveness of medical marijuana, research which has been made more difficult with a Schedule 1 classification.

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, would like to remove marijuana from the list altogether. He wants to lift the federal prohibition on marijuana, allowing states to make the decision for themselves. The Senator from Vermont believes that states should be allowed to regulate marijuana the same way they are allowed to regulate tobacco and alcohol. His position is by far the most progressive of the three Democratic candidates.

Oddly enough, the self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist’s positions on marijuana legislation more closely resemble those of Rand Paul and Gary Johnson than those of Clinton and O’Malley. Rand Paul is the most Libertarian-leaning candidate left in the Republican race, while Gary Johnson hopes to win the vote to be the Libertarian Party’s 2016 candidate.

Senator Paul boycotted the most recent GOP debate after being invited to the “undercard” debate rather than the squaring off against such leading candidates as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio. Instead, he was the guest on a tongue-in-cheek Singles Night edition of the GOP Debate on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. On The Daily Show, he expressed his beliefs that “there shouldn’t be federal laws against most things,” marijuana included. Johnson has made marijuana a central issue of his campaign.

The Democratic presidential candidate debate will air live tonight on NBC beginning at 9 p.m. EST. The Democratic debate can also be streamed online courtesy of NBC’s YouTube page.

[Photo by AP Photo/Jim Cole]