Hillary Rodham Clinton, born in 1947, is an early “Baby Boomer”, the generational name generally assigned to those born during the post-World War II baby boom, between 1946 through 1964. This is a generation who came of age during the domestic cultural conscientiousness associated with the Viet Nam war era. It was a tumultuous time.
But Hillary Rodham (later Clinton) seems to have largely been immune to those cultural influences.
A native of Park Ridge, Illinois, an affluent Chicago suburb, Hillary Rodham attended Wellesley College, a highly selective private women’s liberal-arts college outside Boston, graduating in 1969 with a major in political science. She then attended Yale Law School, earning a JD degree in 1973. It was at Yale where she first met future president Bill Clinton, whom she married in 1975.
She has a long record as an advocate for children’s rights, and for better legal services for the poor, having been appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the board of the Legal Services Corporation in 1977, becoming their first female chair in 1978. Clinton was named the first female partner at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1979, and was twice included as one of the one hundred most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal.
Claims She Has Never Smoked Pot
Boomers are often associated with the counterculture, and the civil rights and the feminist movements of the 1970s. And while these cultural and legal changes have clearly left their impact on Clinton, she acknowledges she was not on the barricades during the cultural revolution that occurred in America in the late ’60s and the ’70s, and claims never to have smoked marijuana, recently telling Christiane Amanpour “Absolutely not. I didn’t do it when I was young, I’m not going to start now.”
Clinton has spent her entire adult life, including serving as first lady of Arkansas for a total of 12 years, eight years as America’s first lady, and eight years as a U.S. Senator from New York, living with the political reality that one could never be too careful when talking about contentious social issues — especially the then-radical idea of marijuana legalization — and it was always politically safer to support incremental change than to advocate for radical change. She exudes competence and strength, not innovation or risk-taking.
Yet there are reasons to be optimistic should she become president in 2017.
Her Position During the 2008 Campaign
While campaigning for president in 2007, Clinton rarely mentioned drug policy, but when she did she made it clear she was firmly against decriminalizing marijuana. “I don’t think we should decriminalize it, but we ought to do research into what, if any medical benefits it has.” Even then she showed some interest in the medical use of marijuana.
She did not indicate why she favored continuing to treat marijuana smokers as criminals, nor did she need to. None of the other candidates for the Democratic nomination were willing to challenge her on that issue. Then-candidate Barack Obama was himself no champion for pot law reform during that campaign. It was then considered both too radical for a mainstream politician, and too insignificant compared to other issues the country was dealing with.
Clinton’s Most Recent Statements
While Clinton has been slow to evolve her position on marijuana policy, her most recent statements do reflect a recognition that the politics of marijuana legalization are changing, and she must reflect some of those changes or risk alienating large numbers of voters, especially younger voters.
“I’m a big believer in acquiring evidence,” Clinton told NPR affiliate KPCC in July of 2014. “And I think we should see what kind of results we get, both from medical marijuana and from recreational marijuana, before we make any far-reaching conclusions. We need more studies. We need more evidence. And then we can proceed.”
Also in 2014, during a town hall with CNN, Clinton told Christiane Amanpour that she wants to “wait and see” how legalization goes in the states before making it a national decision. “There are younger people here who could help me understand this and answer it,” Clinton began. “At the risk of committing radical candor, I have to say I think we need to be very clear about the benefits of marijuana use for medicinal purposes. I don’t think we’ve done enough research yet, although I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions and who have anecdotal evidence that it works, there should be availability under appropriate circumstances.”
Then, showing her uneasiness with discussing marijuana policy generally, she attempts to make sure she has not gone too far, by adding: “But I do think we need more research because we don’t know how it interacts with other drugs.”
Clinton also sounded supportive of new Colorado and Washington laws that have legalized recreational marijuana for adults. “On recreational, states are the laboratories of democracy,” Clinton said. “We have at least two states that are experimenting with that right now. I want to wait and see what the evidence is.”
This time around it is clear that some of her advisors have alerted her to the reality that the marijuana legalization movement has finally come of age, and legalization is an option that must now be part of the national discussion. Marijuana legalization appears to be favored in several swing states. A Quinnipiac University survey conducted in March of 2015 found a majority of voters support full legalization in Florida (55 percent), Ohio (52 percent), and Pennsylvania (51 percent) — all key states that a Clinton campaign may need to win the general election.
What We Can Expect from a Hillary Clinton Presidency
Assuming the public support for marijuana legalization continues to surge, by the time President Hillary Clinton would be taking office, I would expect she will realize the political climate really has changed dramatically regarding this issue over the last few years, and she will have the option politically to do a number of helpful things without endangering her majority support. Reading tea leaves is always risky, but here are my best guesses as to how she would respond.
First, President Hillary Clinton would use her executive authority to reschedule marijuana to a lower schedule under the federal Controlled Substances Act, to facilitate more research on marijuana’s many medical uses. And while that would also open up the opportunity to eventually allow physicians to prescribe marijuana and pharmacists to dispense it, that process would first require the drug be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, a process that usually takes a decade or longer and costs tens of millions of dollars.
This modest change would be a politically safe move to make, as national polling consistently shows public support for the medical use of marijuana at nearly 80 percent.
Second, President Hillary Clinton would almost certainly continue the Obama policy of having the DOJ stand aside, and permit those states that wish to experiment with versions of legalization, both medical use and full legalization, to do so without federal interference. Changing course would be difficult for any incoming president, including the anti-pot Republican candidates, as the newly legalized industries in a handful of states (that list continues to grow) will have created tens of thousands of new, badly needed jobs, and raised hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue for those states. And, public support for ending prohibition will reinforce the importance politically of continuing the Obama policy.
And third, President Hillary Clinton would likely embrace the full decriminalization of marijuana, under both state and federal law, as initially recommended by the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (the Shafer Commission) in 1972.
While this would be a total reversal of her position expressed during her campaign for president in 2007, it’s a “flip-flop” that can easily be justified on the basis of the unfair racial impact of the marijuana laws on black and brown Americans. She can embrace removing penalties for the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana, as a criminal justice reform, without embracing the use of marijuana itself.
Of course, no president can, without the support of a majority of Congress, decriminalize marijuana under federal law. But should she decide to use her “bully pulpit” to legitimize and advance the movement to decriminalize minor marijuana offenses, it would have a powerful impact on the state level, where nearly all marijuana arrests occur.
The first two of these advances would likely come during her first term, while the latter would more likely await the first couple of years of her second term, assuming her re-election. As President Obama has demonstrated, it is in the second term, when no further campaigns remain and the fear of alienating voters has abated, that most significant progress on these types of issues occurs.
More later on what we might expect from some of the Republican candidates, should they become president. But I will wait for a few months, to let the wackiest of the Republican candidates fade into oblivion. No point in wasting time analyzing candidates who have no chance of getting the nomination, and who should have had the good sense to stay out of the race. But first, let’s all enjoy the clowns in the circus we call a presidential campaign.