Grading the Democratic Presidential Candidates on Marijuana: Elizabeth Warren

elizabeth warren marijuana

Each Saturday, we have been running a series of blog posts that take a close look at each of the Democratic Party candidates for President in 2020. We examine each candidate’s historic approach to marijuana law and policy, and we also canvas their current respective stances on marijuana.

Over the past three weeks, we covered Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris. Today, we turn to Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from Massachusetts.

Grade: B+

Stance on marijuana: This past April, Senator Elizabeth Warren clearly vocalized her support for cannabis legalization at a CNN town hall. On social media, Warren has also come out strongly in support of legalization. Warren’s website, however, does not specifically advocate for legalization but rather for “rewriting our laws to decriminalize marijuana.” It is unclear whether this is an important distinction in Warren’s platform as a presidential candidate.

History with marijuana legislation: Warren’s stance on marijuana has evolved over the course of her senate career. In 2011 during her first campaign for Senate, Warren expressed openness to legalizing medical marijuana but opposed legalization in general. At the CNN town hall this past April, Warren declared that she had supported Massachusetts’ ballot initiative to legalize marijuana back in 2012. In reality, Warren was hesitant to offer her support for the ballot initiative, vacillating between silence and tentative approval. In a 2018 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Warren also exaggerated her support for Massachusetts’ 2016 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana; she said she had endorsed it, but her only statement about the initiative was that she was “open to the possibility of legalizing marijuana.”

In 2018, however, Warren pushed for marijuana reform through both her rhetoric and legislative action. In 2018, she co-wrote a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to reinstate the Cole memo. Later that year, she co-sponsored the STATES Act, a bi-partisan bill which, if passed, would amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow States to “implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference.” She also co-sponsored the Marijuana Justice Act (which would legalize marijuana if passed) as well as multiple other marijuana reform bills.

Warren became a vocal advocate of legalization just a year before announcing her intention to run for president in December of 2018. Considering that the majority of Americans support legalization, this shift in Warren’s platform was most definitely a deliberate move as Warren geared up for her presidential campaign.

Conclusion: Warren receives a “B+” grade on cannabis. She obviously wants to come across as a long-time advocate for marijuana reform. Despite her claims, however, Warren did not consistently support legalization of marijuana before 2016. Additionally, the statement on Warren’s website regarding marijuana calls for decriminalization, rather than legalization, even though Warren herself has called for legalization. Fortunately, Warren’s recent legislative action surrounding marijuana is promising, indicating Warren would likely reform marijuana laws if elected President.