The Evolution of the Pot-Smoking Politician: What's in Store for 2020?

It wasn't always easy to come out as having smoked weed if you were a politician.

Many political leaders once feared that if they admitted to having "inhaled" marijuana, their political careers would similarly end up in smoke.

And in the occasions where politicians did admit to having smoked the plant, it was often followed by the phrases "I only tried it once or twice." Or "It was infrequent and rare."

At least that's what Al Gore said about his smoking habits in 1987.

Though the times, they are a-changin'.

Drugs have always been a tricky subject for many politicians, who have historically tried to evade the subject.

And while the shift has been slow, we're finally starting to see more openness around the drug itself, and its legislation.

Nearly every Democratic candidate for the US 2020 election has either admitted to lighting up the occasional doobie, or now publicly supports ending prohibition.

As a result we've decided to chronicle some of these changes in the political debate around pot.


Richard Nixon

Largely considered the creator of what we currently know as the 'War on Drugs,' Richard Nixon's harsh stance towards substance use in the 70's led to the creation of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) as well as the placement of marijuana in the Schedule I Category under the Controlled Substances Act.

This scheduling meant that possession of the substance was now in line with possession of drugs such as heroin and cocaine, leading to the doubling of male incarceration rates during the 70's.

Although the origins of Nixon's War on Drugs are believed to have been largely racially and politically motivated, the 37th Presidents anti-drug stance echoes to this day.


Bill Clinton

Perhaps the most renowned non-smoker of weed, the 42nd US president is still remembered for his evasive response to the weed question in which he stated that "didn't inhale" when he tried the drug in England.

Whether or not anyone believes him, is a different story.


George W. Bush

Although known to have enjoyed cocaine in his heyday, the 43rd US president was similarly evasive around questions involving marijuana.

Though in a roundabout way, he didn't deny it either as he came out with such remarks as "I don't want the kids doing something because I tried it."

After his presidency, Bush then came out by mentioning "I didn't behave the best when I was younger. I might have smoked something for example."


Barack Obama

Barack Obama's stance on marijuana has been interesting to say the least.

Having openly admitted to having smoked on numerous occasions, the 44th US President Barack Obama made a pass at one of his predecessors Bill Clinton by remarking that when he was a kid, he "inhaled, frequently. That was the point."

Though despite his openness toward his history with marijuana, Obama's presidency remained largely in opposition of marijuana legalization.

In the first ever online White House town hall meeting, a marijuana-related question asked of President Obama "ranked fairly high" according to the president.

The question was regarding Obama's thoughts on Marijuana legalization and its effects on the economy, to which the president responded, "No. I don't think that will improve the economy."

On numerous occasions Obama made it no secret that he was against the legalization of marijuana, stating that "Casual marijuana use can lead to abuse, just like alcohol."

While never fully supporting legalization during his presidency, the closest the president came was in a 2016 Rolling Stones Interview in which he stated that marijuana should be treated as a public health issue, like "tobacco and alcohol."

While Obama's openness to smoking in his past may have removed some of the political stigma surrounding weed for future candidates, he lacked action in terms of policy change.

Donald Trump

Unlike Barack Obama, the 45th US President Donald Trump has never admitted to smoking marijuana.

Despite this, Trump has been openly in support of medicinal marijuana, stating to The Washington Post, "Medical is such a big thing. I think medical should happen – right? Don't we agree?"

As well as supporting medicinal marijuana, Donald Trump has supported state rights when it comes to recreational legalization.

Trump has also stated that he'd likely support a bill which would end the federal ban on Marijuana in the US.

And while it remains unclear what Trump's plans are with regards to the future of drug law reform, there's a list of people ready to beat him to the punch.

With Trump's first term in office nearing its end, many Democratic candidates are vying for the spot as the 46th US President in 2020.

Support for Marijuana legalization has been essentially ubiquitous among the 2020 candidates list of policies, moving drug reform from a fringe issue into a focal point for discussion.

Here's a list of the 2020 candidates in favour of marijuana legalization.


Andrew Yang

Democratic Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang has been very adamant about his stance on marijuana legalisation, mentioning in numerous interviews that he perceives the War on Drugs to be "racist and stupid."

"I don't love marijuana. I'd rather people not use it heavily. But it's vastly safer than people becoming addicted to opiates like heroin. And our criminalization of it seems stupid and racist, particularly now that it's legal in some states. We should proceed with full legalization of marijuana."

– Andrew Yang, US 2020 Presidential Candidate

Yang has also proposed a 'Pot Pardon' on April 20th 2021, where if elected, Yang will pardon anyone in the US prison system who is imprisoned for non-violent marijuana offenses.


Kamala Harris

The Californian Attorney, Senator and now Presidential Candidate for the Democrats Kamala Harris seems to have no issues with legalization, as she co-sponsors Senator Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act.


When asked about her stance on Marijuana in an interview, Kamala quipped, "half my family is from Jamaica, are you kidding me?" before going on to say "I believe we need to legalise marijuana.


Bernie Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders has long been a vocal advocate for marijuana legalization, stating that he is in support of medicinal marijuana as well as legalizing recreational use & consumption of marijuana. Similarly to Kamala Harris, Sanders also signed on as a co-sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act.

Originally introduced last year by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, the Act would remove cannabis from its position as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, allowing for recreational use of the substance.

"Prohibition doesn't work. Studies show that over half of all Americans have consumed Marijuana. It is insane that we are arresting some 600,000 people each year for possession of marijuana. States are moving forward."

– Bernie Sanders, Democratic Candidate for 2020 US Election


Cory Booker

The Former Mayor of Newark, New Jersey is the Chief Sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act and aims to address the racial undertones to the War on Drugs.

Booker states that there is a disproportionate number of arrests of African-Americans for their relatively equal consumption of cannabis, which is something he seeks to address if he wins the election. Many of his fellow Democratic candidates have since signed on to the Act.


Elizabeth Warren

Senator Elizabeth Warren has been largely in favor of marijuana for the past two years, similarly joining Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act.

When accused of opposing a medicinal marijuana bill in her home state of Massachusetts in 2013, Warren responded: "I supported Massachusetts changing its laws on marijuana and I now support the legalization of marijuana [in the United States.]"


Beto O'Rourke

The Texan native, businessman and now presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke is also in support of marijuana legalization.

In fact, unlike many of the other candidates who have only recently shown support for drug law reform, O'Rourke has been on it since way back in 2011.

in 2011 O'Rourke co-authored a book, Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico, in which he argued for Marijuana legalization.

Whether any of these candidates actually win the 2020 Presidency is uncertain, though their shared support for cannabis is certainly good.

Cannabis was once a taboo subject, around which politicians attempted to dodge, weave and tip-toe.

From denying it entirely, to suggesting they "didn't inhale" politicians have always found ways to not align themselves with the substance.

Now, however, it seems the coin has flipped. If you don't show vocal support of ending Marijuana prohibition, you're no longer in the race.

Drug law reform has moved out of the fringes and into the limelight as a central issue for many voters, which means the future will continue getting brighter for the green plant.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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