The Republican candidates have started the campaign trail in full force. They have already participated in their first formal debate, while the Democrats are not participating in their first debate until October. Some of the candidates may look familiar from the 2012 election, while others are entering the public arena for the first time.
Three of the major candidates, former Governor Jeb Bush, Senator Rand Paul and Donald Trump, have discussed their stances on cannabis with the media. Based on their views, and the other Republican candidate views on cannabis, the GOP looks to be slowing shifting gears on cannabis legalization.
Jeb Bush believes cannabis legalization should be left up to states to decide. He has admitted to smoking marijuana in college saying, “I drank alcohol and smoked marijuana when I was at Andover,” adding “it was pretty common.” But this experience does not seem to have affected his opposition to cannabis.
During his governorship in Florida, he opposed a medical marijuana bill stating that the legalization of medical marijuana would allow “large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medical purposes.” A recent poll by Quinnipiac University shows that there is 84 percent support for medical marijuana in Florida, which puts Bush’s views in the minority.
Rand Paul maintains the most progressive stance on cannabis and believes in the states’ right to vote for legalization. He also opposes long prison sentences for drug crimes and supports drug sentencing reform. The Marijuana Policy Project gave Paul the highest rating out of all the current candidates, an A-, while Trump received a C and Bush received a D.
Paul co-sponsored the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 in order to “exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marihuana,” as well as co-sponsored the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015, which would provide cannabis businesses access to banking services, freeing them from cash only transactions.
At the National Cannabis Industry Association’s business summit, Paul became first candidate to hold a fundraising event within the cannabis industry. He attracted some interest, raising an estimated $100,000 during his closed door event.
Donald Trump has firmly stated that he is against legalization and supports medical cannabis, but also believes legalization is up to the states.
Trump’s views have shifted from supporting legalization when he said in 1990, “we’re losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war,” to a much more conservative stance which he has elaborated on in recent interviews.
Trump told Sean Hannity on C-SPAN he is against legalization saying “it’s bad and I feel strongly about that.” In another interview with Hannity, he discusses Colorado, claiming marijuana causes “tremendously damaging effects to the mind, to the brain, to everything. So it’s a big problem.”
Despite the claims of damaging effects, he supports medical cannabis 100 percent and believes it is up to each state to enact their own marijuana laws.
Looking at just three of the current 38 candidates, it looks as though the GOP has shifted away from the days of Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs and George H. W. Bush’s expansion of harsh drug policies.
While Jeb Bush and Donald Trump are generally falling instep with expected party lines, Rand Paul is the most outspoken supporter of cannabis of all candidates to date.