Yesterday marked another Presidents Day, and here at Recovery Unplugged, we’re itching to do our civic duty. With the 2020 election already on America’s radar, more and more Democrats are throwing their hats into what promises to be a crowded and contentious primary-ring. As they prepare to plead their cases and outline their policy positions to apply for arguably the highest-stakes job in the world, it’s only fitting that we fully assess the current Democratic candidates’ positions on drugs, the most urgent public health crisis facing the country they seek to run.
When it comes to drug-related issues such as the opioid crisis, incarceration rates for offenders, and the legalization of marijuana, each candidate has different opinions. Here’s a preliminary look at the declared Democratic candidates’ positions on drugs in the United States.
Cory Booker (D – NJ)
New Jersey Senator and former Newark Mayor Cory Booker has been a vocal advocate for treatment and rehabilitation for treatment over long-term incarceration. He also believes in ending mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders, which has been the largest factor in the continued growth of the federal prison population. Booker openly supports the implementation of medical marijuana, and in the past, has outlined the programs he has out in place to lower drug-related arrests, including reentry, court reform, jobs, treatment, and legal aid.
Elizabeth Warren (D – MA)
Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts has slightly more conservative views on the use and legalization of marijuana. Although she is opposed to the outright federal legalization of cannabis, she has implored the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to explore the use of medical marijuana, especially regarding how it may be used as an alternative to opioid painkillers to combat the opioid crisis. She has also signed a bill to criminalize the import of opioid precursors in order to take legislative action against the opioid epidemic.
Amy Klobuchar (D – MN)
One of Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar’s main promises when elected was to combat the meth epidemic plaguing her state. She has made moves to provide more resources to public servants in order to reduce the drug crises in her home state and has been labeled “hard on drugs” by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. She has also vocally supported the criminalization of imports of opioid precursors in order to fight the opioid epidemic.
Kamala Harris (D – CA)
California Senator Kamala Harris has been an outspoken critic of the decades-long “war on drugs”. She advocates for the legalization of marijuana and in the past has lashed out against federal crackdowns in medical marijuana states, stating that a federal enforcement campaign will make it harder for legitimate patients in need of the medicinal qualities of cannabis to access much-needed medicines. Harris has also vocalized her support for re-entry and rehabilitation for those with nonviolent drug charges as opposed to incarceration.
Tulsi Gabbard (D – HI)
Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has withheld many of her opinions on drugs and the legalization of marijuana. Her only recorded statements regarding cannabis involve the decriminalization and exclusion of industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana and marijuana laws. She has addressed the issue of the opioid epidemic on the House floor, advocating that pharmaceutical companies be held accountable for the roles they play in the opioid crisis.
John Delaney (D – MD)
A former Maryland Congressman, Delaney’s position on drugs advocates for the legalization of marijuana and reforming of marijuana policy and laws. In the past he has also cosponsored legislation that would support the Drug Enforcement Agency’s ability to fight the opioid crisis. He has also spearheaded efforts to receive grant funding to fight the opioid epidemic specifically in his home state, resulting in a $2.5 million grant in 2018 to help public servants have access to necessary resources that will help combat the crisis.
Julian Castro (D – TX)
Former US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama, Castro has been relatively silent about his views concerning marijuana policy. However, the few comments that he has made concerning cannabis indicate that he supports state regulation of the issue but opposes federal regulation of what he considers to be a state-specific topic. According to him, the topic deserves more scrutiny and analysis than what it has been given so far. While he has yet to make any comments concerning the opioid crisis, he has made stops to visit victims of the opioid epidemic at treatment centers in New Hampshire.
One of only two current candidates with no political experience, Williamson is a self-help guru and spiritual advisor for many high-profile celebrities like Oprah Winfrey. She has unique views on a variety of issues but believes that large pharmaceutical companies need to be held accountable for their influence on the creation of the opioid crisis. She supports the use of medical marijuana as an alternative for opioid use, believing that if marijuana were to be regulated as a medicine, it would be a more controlled substance.
Also a newcomer to the political arena, Yang is an entrepreneur with extensive experience in the field of economics. He takes an aggressive stance against the opioid crisis, advocating for the allocation of funds to directly fight what he calls a national crisis. He also calls the opioid epidemic a failure of government, stating that pharmaceutical companies’ role in the crisis was one that could have been prevented by more regulation from the federal government. Yang is an explicit advocate for the disambiguation and legalization of marijuana on a federal level, believing it would improve safety and social equity while generating an enormous amount of income and revenue from businesses.
Why Do Candidates Positions on Drugs Matter?
Last year, drug overdose killed over 70,000 Americans, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Whoever is entrusted with the welfare of this country must have the foresight and wherewithal to address its leading cause of accidental death and the cultural, legal and institutional factors that lead to it. As we gear up for what is sure to be one of the longest election cycles in history, literally and figuratively speaking, it’s imperative that we cut through the cat-nip headlines and stick to the real issues. Recovery Unplugged will be watching intently for these Democratic candidates’ and all others’ shifting or “evolving” positions on drugs in America.