As the candidates for president tour the country seeking their respective party's nomination, they continue to face questions about marijuana legalization.
On the morning of the Michigan primary Tuesday, the hosts at WWJ Newsradio 950 in Detroit held Ohio Gov. John Kasich's feet to the flame on the issue. In a contentious exchange Kasich, the GOP hopeful and staunch opponent of legalization, surprisingly admitted that he had danced with Mary Jane in the past.
"Yes, I did smoke marijuana when I was younger," Kasich said. In the same interview, Kasich noted that he is "definitely opposed to" federal marijuana legalization.
Kasich has joined an ever-growing group of politicians (including President Obama) who smoked weed, were never busted for it, and are unwilling to take action to put an end to more than 700,000 Americans arrested each year for making the same choice.
The intrepid WWJ Newsradio radio crew then got Donald Trump on the phone to discuss his view of cannabis.
“I never have smoked it. I think it certainly has to be a state — I have not smoked it — it’s got to be a state decision,” said Trump, who also repeated his support for medical marijuana in the interview.
Next up on the airwaves was Bernie Sanders.
“The decision to whether to legalize marijuana is a state issue. But I do not believe possession of marijuana should be a federal crime,” Sanders told WWJ Newsradio 950.
Yes folks, about 8,000 to 10,000 people do get arrested by the feds for small amounts of marijuana each year, mostly in National Parks. I'm one of them. For holding a joint at Independence Hall National Historic Park during a protest in 2013, I was prosecuted in federal court and sentenced to 2 years of supervised probation and a $3,000 fine.
Ironically, our protest action was to urge Congress and President Obama to do exactly what Bernie Sanders is now proposing: Remove cannabis completely from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
Sanders has also been up front about a few puffs in his past. He told the story again during his interview.
"When I was a young man I smoked marijuana twice and the result was I had a coughing fits," Sanders said, "I coughed a whole lot, that was my response to marijuana."
Sanders pulled off a significant come-from-behind win in the Michigan primary that has kept political analysts and commentators buzzing this week.
Cannabis is an important topic in Michigan. There are more than 100,000 registered medical marijuana patients there. Detroit recently decided to regulate local dispensaries. Full legalization is pressing forward in the Wolverine State as well.
The group MILegalize is gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would be a comprehensive approach. Their plan, of course, would tax and regulate retail cannabis sales but would also fully decriminalize possession and end civil asset forfeiture.
Matt Abel is a Detroit area attorney who serves on Michigan NORML's Board of Directors and is running the MILegalize effort. Abel says they have spent more than $600,000 in their push to reach a 253,000 signature requirement by June 1.
State legislators in Lansing have also filed bills to legalize cannabis as well. Polling shows that 56 percent of Michigan voters back the shift.
Cannabis consumers have indeed been rallying behind Sanders. He won the Colorado caucus with 59 percent. In Oregon, ceramic pipes are being sold with his logo and a marijuana retail store, Foster Buds, is donating 10 percent of the sales on certain pre-rolled joints to his campaign.
This week, a YouTube video by Pittsburgh-area Sanders supporters highlighted the significant difference on cannabis policy between the senator from Vermont and the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. The video uses a series of news clips, street interviews and debate moments.
First, Clinton says she never smoked the reefer. However, she has supported downgrading cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II in the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
But that approach is too little, too late.
National NORML's Deputy Director Paul Armentano pointed out the problems with that position in an article on Alternet:
In short, Clinton’s presumption that it is the absence of scientific research that necessitates the need to remove cannabis from Schedule I is both ill informed and unpersuasive. In truth, marijuana does not belong in Schedule I because ample scientific evidence already exists disproving the government’s claim that it is among the most dangerous substances known to man and that it lacks therapeutic utility. Moreover, reclassifying cannabis from I to II – the same category as cocaine – continues to misrepresent the plant’s safety relative to other controlled substances, and fails to provide states with the ability to regulate it free from federal interference.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who is supporting Clinton, introduced a bill last year called the CARERS Act that would re-schedule marijuana. Although it has gained some co-sponsors, the bill has not been heard before a committee as of yet.
Perhaps more telling is that Clinton has been touting the state's rights approach to weed. Tom Angell in a blog on Marijuana.com highlighted an interview Clinton gave to a Boston radio station in January.
“I think that states are the laboratories of democracy, and four states have already taken action to legalize, and it will be important that other states and the federal government take account of how that’s being done, what we learn from what they’re doing,” said Clinton.
That puts Clinton, literally, in lockstep on the issue with her front-running Republican counterparts Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. In the past, Cruz has supported the rights of states to tax and regulate cannabis for adults.
The fact that Clinton and Trump are aligned on pot is telling and could be a real problem for federal reform if either one wins the presidential election.
Sanders is clearly apart from all the other candidates on the issue. He also isn't waiting to get into the White House. Sanders has already introduced a bill in the US Senate, S2237, that would de-schedule marijuana in the CSA. The bill is simple and effective but it currently does not have any co-sponsors.
The contest in both parties for the presidential nomination is far from over. Another key state for cannabis is California where the primary is set for June 7, 2016. Voters in the Golden State will likely be casting a ballot on full legalization in November alongside their choice for president. A pair of initiatives are gathering signatures now.