NORML’s 2020 Democratic Primary Marijuana Straw Poll – NORML Blog

by NORMLApril 2, 2019

The 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary is already heating up and we wanted to reach out to our supporters to take an early straw poll of who they think voters who prioritize marijuana law reform should support in that primary. We will be taking many more in-depth looks at the 2020 race as it progresses, including potential primary challengers on the Republican side, but first we wanted to provide an overview of all the currently announced Democratic candidates, along with their record and policy statements when it comes to marijuana legalization. Please review the information below and then cast a vote in our 2020 Democratic Primary Straw Poll!

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The Senators

Amy Klobuchar

Current Office: Senator from Minnesota
2018 NORML Congressional Scorecard Grade: B
Co-Sponsored Legislation: STATES Act (2017-2018)

Summary: During her tenure in Congress, Senator Klobuchar did not sponsor her own marijuana law reform legislation and did not seem to make changing marijuana laws a priority. Senator Klobuchar did sponsor both the STATES Act and the MEDS Act in the last Congress, but has yet to sponsor any legislation that would deschedule marijuana at the federal level. She remained generally opposed to legalization, while supporting states having the right to reform their own policies, until she clarified her stance as being in support of it after announcing her 2020 presidential campaign.

Quote: “I support the legalization of marijuana and believe that states should have the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders.” – 02/22/19

Bernie Sanders

Current Office: Senator from Vermont
2018 NORML Congressional Scorecard Grade: A+
Sponsored Legislation: Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act (2015-2016)
Co-Sponsored Legislation: Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 (2017-2020), Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act (2017-2018)

Summary: Senator Sanders has a long history of supporting reforming our nation’s drug policy. While serving as mayor of Burlington, Vermont in the 1980’s, he called for decriminalizing drug possession and treating substance abuse as a public health issue. When elected to Congress in the 1990s, he co-sponsored legislation that would have allowed for access to medical marijuana. In recent years, he has campaigned heavily on ending federal prohibition and expunging past marijuana convictions while campaigning for president in both 2016 and 2020. Senator Sanders was also the lead sponsor on the Senate version of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act in 2015 and is a co-sponsor of numerous marijuana-related bills including the Marijuana Justice Act. NORML endorsed his campaign for re-election to the Senate in 2018.

Quote: “Prohibition doesn’t work. Studies show over half of Americans smoke marijuana. It is insane to be arresting some 600,000 people a year for using marijuana. States are moving forward on decriminalization and legalization. The time is now to say that we are not going to punish people for smoking marijuana, states want to go forward and legalize it. That is their right…The issue that really hits me here, is you have thousands and thousands of people whose lives are wrecked for possession of marijuana.” – All In With Chris Hayes, 04/20/18

Cory Booker

Current Office: Senator from New Jersey
2018 NORML Congressional Scorecard Grade: A+
Sponsored Legislation: Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 (2017-2020)
Co-Sponsored Legislation: STATES Act (2017-2018)

Summary: Senator Booker has prioritized marijuana law reform since his time serving as mayor of Newark, New Jersey. He has made ending federal prohibition a central plank in his current presidential campaign and has prioritized the issue during his Senate career, serving as lead sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act and the CARERS Act. NORML endorsed his campaign for New Jersey’s Senate seat in 2010.

Quote: “Descheduling marijuana and applying that change retroactively to people currently serving time for marijuana offenses is a necessary step in correcting this unjust system. States have so far led the way in reforming our criminal justice system and it’s about time the federal government catches up and begins to assert leadership.” – Announcing the introduction of the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017, 08/01/2017

Elizabeth Warren

Current Office: Senator from Massachusetts
2018 NORML Congressional Scorecard Grade: A
Sponsored Legislation: STATES Act (2017-2018)
Co-Sponsored Legislation: Marijuana Justice Act of 2019 (2017-2020), Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act (2017-2018)

Summary: Earlier in her career, Senator Warren was cautious on issues surrounding cannabis descheduling and legalization. In recent years, she has embraced the issue and is one of the lead sponsors of the STATES Act, that would create an exemption from federal incursion for states that have legalized marijuana for adult or medical use, and is a co-sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act. She has highlighted issues of the inequities caused by marijuana prohibition while on the trail for her 2020 presidential campaign. NORML endorsed her campaign for re-election to the Senate in 2018.

Quote: “Outdated federal marijuana laws have perpetuated our broken criminal justice system, created barriers to research, and hindered economic development. States like Massachusetts have put a lot of work into implementing common sense marijuana regulations – and they have the right to enforce their own marijuana policies. The federal government needs to get out of the business of outlawing marijuana.” – Press Release Announcing the STATES Act of 2017, 06/07/18

Kamala Harris

Current Office: Senator from California
2018 NORML Congressional Scorecard Grade: A
Co-Sponsored Legislation: Marijuana Justice Act (2017-2020)

Summary: Kamala Harris has a complicated history with marijuana law reform. While serving as district attorney in San Francisco and as US Attorney in California, she enforced laws that saw many go to jail for marijuana offenses and oversaw a period where raids on medical marijuana dispensaries spiked. During her campaign for District Attorney in 2016, she laughed off the question when asked about support for legalization. However, she began to embrace legalization more around 2016 and upon entering the 2020 presidential race, she has become a more vocal advocate and often discusses legalization as a criminal justice reform issue. She said she believes marijuana is a thing that “brings people joy” and supports ending federal prohibition to combat mass incarceration. She was an initial co-sponsor on the Marijuana Justice Act of 2019.

Quote: “We need to legalize marijuana and regulate it. And we need to expunge nonviolent marijuana-related offenses from the records of the millions of people who have been arrested and incarcerated so they can get on with their lives.” Sen. Harris wrote in her book The Truths We Hold.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Current Office: Senator from New York
NORML 2018 Congressional Scorecard Grade: A
Co-Sponsored Legislation: Marijuana Justice Act (2017-2020)
Summary: Kirsten Gillibrand did not initially support legalization when serving in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, she became a vocal supporter and signed on as a co-sponsor of numerous pieces of marijuana related legislation. On the campaign trail she has often spoken vigorously against our failed war on drugs and the harms caused by marijuana prohibition. She was an initial co-sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act of 2019. NORML endorsed her reelection to the Senate in 2018.

Quote: “Millions of Americans’ lives have been devastated because of our broken marijuana policies, especially in communities of color and low-income communities. Just one minor possession conviction could take away a lifetime of opportunities for jobs, education, and housing, tear families apart, and make people more vulnerable to serving time in jail or prison down the road. The reality that my 14-year-old son would likely be treated very differently from one of his Black or Latino peers if he was caught with marijuana is shameful. Legalizing marijuana is a social justice issue and a moral issue that Congress needs to address, and I’m proud to work with Senator Booker on this legislation to help fix decades of injustice caused by our nation’s failed drug policies.” in a press release on 2/14/2018

The Representatives

Tulsi Gabbard

Current Office: Representative for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District
NORML 2018 Congressional Scorecard Grade: A+
Sponsored Legislation: Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act (2017-2020)
Co-Sponsored Legislation: The RESPECT Resolution (2017-2020), Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017 (2017-2020), Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act (2017-2018), Marijuana Justice Act (2017-2020)

Summary: Tulsi Gabbard has largely been a vocal supporter of ending federal marijuana prohibition for her full tenure in the House of Representatives. She has twice been the lead sponsor of the End Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act and continues to discuss the need for reform while campaigning. This has been a major part of her political platform, in addition to serving as the lead sponsor on End Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, she is a co-sponsor on numerous other pieces of marijuana-related legislation. NORML endorsed her campaign for re-election to the House of Representatives in 2018.

Quote: “We must pass The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act to ensure that marijuana consumers and state-licensed marijuana businesses are protected from undue federal interference. It will help reduce the strain on our criminal justice system, amend federal law to agree with cannabis’ changing cultural status, recognize the plant’s therapeutic benefits, and reduce contradictions and confusion between federal and state marijuana laws.” in a message to NORML supporters on 03/07/2019

Beto O’Rourke

Current Office: None
Previous Office: Representative for Texas’ 16th Congressional District
NORML 2018 Congressional Scorecard Grade: A
Sponsored Legislation: The Better Drive Act (2017-2018)
Co-Sponsored Legislation: The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act (2017-2018)

Summary: Beto O’Rourke has been a long-time supporter of abolishing the federal prohibition on marijuana since the start of his political career as a city council member in El Paso. While serving in the US House of Representatives, he co-sponsored several bills including; The Veterans Equal Access Act, The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, The CARERS Act, and The Industrial Hemp Farming Act. In his bid for President, he has called for ending the federal prohibition of cannabis and creating a legal, regulated market. He also supports expunging criminal records of those already convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses. NORML endorsed his reelection campaign to the House of Representatives in 2014 and his campaign for Senate in 2018.

Quote: “We should end the federal prohibition on marijuana and expunge the records of those who were locked away for possessing it, ensuring that they can get work, finish their education, contribute to the greatness of this country,” O’Rourke wrote in an email to his supporters. March 2019

John Delaney

Current Office: None
Previous Office: Representative for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District
NORML 2016 Congressional Scorecard Grade: B
Co-Sponsored Legislation: N/A

Summary: John Delaney does not have a long record of supporting marijuana law reform. When he served in the House, he did co-sponsor a very limited medical marijuana access bill and a piece of legislation that would give marijuana businesses the ability to utilize financial services.

The Governors

Jay Inslee

Current Office: Governor of Washington State
NORML 2018 Gubernatorial Scorecard Grade: A+

Enacted Legislation: In January 2019, Gov. Inslee announced his intent to provide an expedited process for granting clemency to those with past marijuana-related convictions. Under the proposed plan, those convicted of a marijuana misdemeanor after January 1, 1998, will have their record vacated. It is estimated that 3,500 individuals will be eligible for expungement. (1/4/19), SB 5131: Amends the state’s medical cannabis law so that qualified medical marijuana patients and designated providers can purchase immature plants, clones, or seeds from a licensed producer. (2017), House Bill 2064: Amends state law so that industrial hemp is no longer classified as a controlled substance under the state’s uniform controlled substances act. (2017). SB 6206: Authorizes “the growing of industrial hemp as a legal agricultural activity” in accordance with federal legislation permitting such activity as part of a state-authorized program. (2016), HB 1276: Defines any consumption of marijuana while in a moving vehicle as a traffic violation. The statute further requires that any cannabis possessed in a moving vehicle must be located in a sealed container in either the trunk, glove compartment, or some other area that is inaccessible to the driver or passengers. (2015), SB 5052: Imposed the establishment of a voluntary registration system for qualified patients, reduced the number of plants that patients may legally cultivate and possess, and imposed new regulations of physicians who authorize medical cannabis. (2015)

Summary: Under the leadership of Governor Jay Inslee, Washington state has acted as a progressive beacon for the rest of the nation in many important areas, including marijuana policy. Washington state historically became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, less than a year before Governor Inslee took office. Although his support for legalization was uncertain prior to the passing Initiative 502 in the 2012 general ballot, he has since vehemently protected his state’s program, defending it against the threat of federal interference. Inslee has assured voters that he will support legalization efforts as president, voicing his belief that it’s time the United States legalizes marijuana federally.

Quotes: “Our federal marijuana laws are broken—and we need to ensure this Justice Department does not interfere with Washington state’s thriving, well-regulated marijuana market.” 6/8/2018

John Hickenlooper

Current Office: None
Previous Office: Governor of Colorado
NORML 2016 Gubernatorial Scorecard Grade: B-

Enacted Legislation: House Bill 1267: Permits qualified patients to access medical marijuana while on probation or parole. Colorado is one of the first states to permit medical marijuana use to parolees by statute. (2015), House Bill 1373: Permits qualified patients access to medical cannabis formulations while on school grounds. (2016)

Summary: Governor John Hickenlooper has displayed lukewarm support for progressive marijuana policies and has often left voters unsure of his exact stance on cannabis-related issues. He demonstrated outspoken opposition to his state’s decision to legalize in 2014, citing that it would inspire people “to do more of what is not a healthy thing.” Hickenlooper has since admitted that his fears have not materialized. Although he still does not endorse legalization, he believes in a federal reclassification of cannabis and has voiced support for federal banking reforms.

Quote: “I would not ask the federal government to legalize it for everyone, but I think that in states that do legalize marijuana, with the voters or through their general assembly, the federal government should get out of the way, and allow them to be able to get banking… allow them to look at systems by which you can have this experiment go on successfully.” 3/20/2019

New Contenders

Julian Castro

Current Office: None
Former Office: Secretary of HUD, Mayor of San Antonio

Summary: Julian Castro has come out in support of legalization during his campaign for president. He has not held legislative office, so there is no record available for bill sponsorship or votes. While serving as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama he issued a memo reiterating the ban on marijuana in public housing.

Quote: “The White House may crack down on recreational marijuana use–even in states where voters have approved it. That’s a mistake. The federal government should focus its resources on more serious crimes. Not only that, growing evidence from Colorado and other states suggests we can sensibly legalize marijuana use with reasonable controls in place. State voters should have that power.” 02/26/17

Andrew Yang

Current Office: None
Employment: Former Tech Executive, Nonprofit Founder

Summary: Yang supports ending federal marijuana prohibition and moving towards legalization – in addition to calling for the expungement of those with existing criminal records. While he supports legalization, he also believes that there should be limits on advertising and THC levels.

Quote: “I don’t love marijuana. I’d rather people not use it heavily. But it’s vastly safer than people becoming addicted to opiates like heroin. And our criminalization of it seems stupid and racist, particularly now that it’s legal in some states. We should proceed with full legalization of marijuana and pardon those in jail for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses. It’s a safer, less addictive means to manage pain for many Americans.” – Yang2020.com

Pete Buttigeig

Current Office: Mayor of South Bend, Indiana

Summary: Mayor Buttigeig has talked about cannabis reform significantly less than his 2020 competitors. He has never signed legislation directly related to marijuana, and his home state of Indiana lacks even a comprehensive medical program. However, he has voiced strong opposition to the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders and has related his own experience with a police officer who caught him with a joint while he was in college. While Buttigieg wouldn’t obstruct efforts to change federal cannabis laws, it would likely not be a priority of his administration.

Quote: “The safe, regulated, and legal sale of marijuana is an idea whose time has come for the United States, as evidenced by voters demanding legalization in states across the country.” 2/26/2019