US Senator, Massachusetts
US Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is on record voicing mild support for the removal of criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana for personal use. In a November 2003 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Kerry said he has little problem with the responsible use of marijuana by adults, stating: "I've met plenty of people in my lifetime who've used marijuana and who I would not qualify as serious addicts -- who use about the same amount as some people drink beer or wine or have a cocktail. I don't get too excited by any of that." However, when asked whether he supported decriminalizing the possession and use of marijuana as a public policy, he replied: "No, not quite. What we did in the prosecutor's office was have a sort of unspoken approach to marijuana that was almost effectively decriminalization. We just didn't bother with small-time use. It doesn't rise to the level of nuisance, even. And what we were after was people dealing with heroin and destroying lives, and people who were killing people. That's where you need to focus."
When asked during a live November 2003 debate on CNN whether he'd ever smoked marijuana, Kerry responded that he had.
Kerry is on record voicing mild support for the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Speaking in January 2004 at the New Hampshire College Convention, Kerry said he opposed federally prosecuting medical marijuana patients who reside in states that have legalized its use. However, Kerry stopped short of endorsing marijuana's therapeutic use, stating (as summarized by the Associated Press), "he wanted to wait for the completion of a study to see what other alternatives might be available ... before deciding whether to legalize it in all states."
As a Senator, Kerry has been supportive of statewide medical marijuana reform efforts in his home state of Massachusetts. He praised legislation approved by the Massachusetts legislature in 1996 that sought to establish a medicinal marijuana therapeutic research program, and recently, he wrote a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in support of a University of Massachusetts Amherst proposal to manufacture marijuana for FDA-approved medical marijuana research.
Most recently, during a campaign stop in Oregon, Kerry told a local news channel that the federal government shouldn't interfere with state laws legalizing the use of medicinal marijuana. "Individual states have the right to make a decision until the federal government has made an alternative one, and we don't have the information to make that, period."
Kerry is on record supporting the partial repeal of a 1998 provision to the federal Higher Education Act (HEA) that bars convicted marijuana and drug offenders from receiving financial student aid. Speaking in January 2004 at the New Hampshire College Convention, Kerry responded to questioning from the organization, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, by stating that his position on the issue depends on the type of drug offense. "If the offense is use, yes," he said. But "if the offense is selling, no." More recently, Kerry said that he supported amending the ban so that it would no longer apply retroactively, saying: "Education is perhaps the best way for someone who has been involved with drugs or crime to turn their life around. If a young person has overcome past obstacles and is ready to go to college, I don't think that a nonviolent drug conviction in their past should prevent them from doing so. And the reality is that preventing them from obtaining federal loans means they won't be able to afford to go to college."
Kerry has not taken a public position regarding the legalization of industrial hemp, despite publicly promising to do so at the January 2004 College Convention in New Hampshire. In addition, he failed to respond to a 2004 survey by the organization Vote Hemp, even after the group extended their deadline to accommodate Kerry's staff.
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