Presidential Candidates Voice Opinions On The Medical Use Of Marijuana

“It’s promising to see many of the candidates distinguishing themselves from the Bush administration by taking positions in support of the medical use of marijuana,” NORML Executive Director Says

Washington, DC: Among the nine announced Democratic candidates for President, more than half have expressed various degrees of support for the medical use of marijuana. Their positions stand in sharp contrast to that of the Bush administration, which has overseen approximately 40 raids of state-authorized medicinal marijuana patients and providers, and is appealing a unanimous Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the rights of physicians to discuss marijuana therapy with their patients.

“It’s promising to see many of the Presidential candidates distinguishing themselves from the Bush administration by taking positions in support of the medical use of marijuana a position shared by 80 percent of the American public,” NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup said. “We can only hope that they will back-up their rhetoric with real political action to protect patients from arrest.”

Of the candidates, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich has been the most outspoken in support of the legalization of medical marijuana.

Kucinich told the San Francisco Chronicle in May that pot should be available “to any patient who needs it to alleviate pain and suffering,” and promised, if elected, to “sign an executive order [to] permit its use.” Most recently, Kucinich lobbied on the House floor in favor of an amendment to bar the Justice Department from using federal funds to prosecute state-authorized medical marijuana patients. “States deserve to have the right to make their own decisions regarding the use of medical marijuana,” he said. “The federal government should use its power to help terminally ill citizens, not arrest them.”

Kucinich’s new found support for medical marijuana is a dramatic shift in the Congressman’s position. In 1998, Kucinich voted in favor of a House resolution defining marijuana as “a dangerous and addictive drug [that] should not be legalized for medicinal use.” Kucinich is currently a co-sponsor of a pair of federal bills seeking to liberalize federal law regarding the use of medical marijuana by qualified patients.

Candidate John Kerry (D-Mass) has also expressed support for medical marijuana law reform, stating at a New Hampshire town meeting in July that he is “in favor” of its use under a doctor’s supervision. Kerry also told California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer at a recent San Francisco fundraiser that he would establish an interagency commission to revise the federal government’s ban on medical marijuana. This week Kerry repeated that he remains “open to the question of medical marijuana,” but tempered his support by adding that he would like to review studies comparing marijuana to other medications before deciding whether to back its legalization.

Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) has been less forthright in his position, though in July he told a representative from New Hampshire’s Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana that he would “probably” sign legislation as President allowing seriously ill patients to use the drug medicinally. In addition, Lieberman now claims that he is “sympathetic” to the issue, despite having co-sponsored in 1998 a Senate resolution opposing any use of marijuana as a medicine.

Similarly, Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-MO) also appears to have shifted his position since 1998, when he backed a House resolution opposing medical pot. In July, Gephardt told Granite Staters’ patient representative Linda Macia that he supported state laws legalizing the use of marijuana under a doctor’s supervision, and that he would sign federal legislation allowing pot’s use under limited circumstances. Unlike Kucinich however, Kerry, Gephardt and Lieberman have yet to endorse Congressional legislation amending the federal government¹s ban on medical marijuana.

Among the remaining candidates, both former Vermont governor Howard Dean and US Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) have said publicly that they oppose arresting and jailing patients for using medicinal marijuana, but neither one has endorsed the drug’s legalization.

Speaking on CNN earlier this week, Dean said that he didn’t think the Feds should “throw [patients] in jail in California” for using marijuana, but added that he opposed legalizing pot through the state initiative process. “I think that marijuana should be treated like every other drug … and there shouldn’t be a special process which is based on politics to legalize it,” he told a caller on Larry King Live. While Governor, Dean actively opposed a proposed state law to remove criminal penalties on the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Speaking at a New Hampshire town hall meeting in July, Edwards said that he would appoint a “non-partisan commission” to study marijuana’s therapeutic value, but stopped short of endorsing the drug’s use. Edwards also criticized the Bush administration’s decision to target and prosecute state-authorized medical marijuana patients, but offered little in the way of alternatives, noting, “The government has a responsibility to enforce the law.”

Lastly, Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) has said that he opposes the use of medical marijuana, but pledged that as President he would “defer to the states” on the issue. Candidates C. Mosely Braun and Al Sharpton have yet to make any public statements regarding the subject.

For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano at (202) 483-5500. To download and send NORML’s marijuana policy questionnaire to the 2004 Presidential candidates, please visit: