2016 Democratic Presidential Candidates on Drug Policy Reform

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2016 Democratic Presidential Candidates on Drug Policy Reform

What position do the Democratic Presidential Candidates take on drug policy reform? It’s not exactly a hot button issue, but important to consider if the failed “war on drugs” is ever going to see amendments.

Secy. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)

On Clinton’s website, her stance on drug policy reform is made clear. Her plan includes:

Prevention, treatment and recovery, first responders, prescribers, and criminal justice reform:

“Hillary will empower communities to implement preventive programming for adolescents about drug use and addiction…Hillary’s plan helps state and local leaders put into place effective, evidence-based programs tailored to their communities.”

It is also stated:

  • Substance abuse recovery is possible via effective, continued care, but not “neglect or stigmatization.”
  • First responders are to have naloxone available, the anti-overdose medication for opioids.
  • Prescribers will be required to the prescription drug monitoring program in their state before writing prescriptions for painkillers.
  • In terms of criminal justice reform, she wishes to “prioritize rehabilitation and treatment over prison for low-level and nonviolent drug offenses”.

In a Brennan Center for Justice essay, April, 2015, Clinton voiced her support for drug policy reform, especially in the case of nonviolent criminals, and also the need for more drug courts. She penned:

“As a presidential candidate in 2008, I outlined proposals to reduce both crime and the size of our prison population. For example, tough but fair reforms of probation and drug diversion programs to deal swiftly with violations, while allowing nonviolent offenders who stay clean to stay out of prison…as well as new support for specialized drug courts & juvenile programs.”

At the December, 2007 Iowa Brown & Black Presidential Forum, Clinton was asked if the altered sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine vs. powder cocaine should be retroactive. To this, she had to say:

“I believe we’ve got to decrease the disparity that exists. It is really unconscionable that someone who uses five grams of crack cocaine, compared to 500 grams of powder cocaine would face such disparate sentencing.”

However, she also said: “I have problems with retroactivity.”

On Marijuana

At the October, 2015 CNN Democratic Primary debate in Las Vegas, Clinton was asked about her opinion on legalizing recreational marijuana.

She stated that we should stop imprisoning marijuana users so that “we don’t have this terrible result of a huge population in our prisons for nonviolent, low-level offenses…”

On medical marijuana, she said:

“I do support the use of medical marijuana, and I think even there we need to do a lot more research so that we know exactly how we’re going to help people for whom medical marijuana provides relief.”

On recreational marijuana, she stated:

“I think that we have the opportunity through the states that are pursuing recreational marijuana to find out a lot more than we know today.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT)

Drug Policy Reform | Just Believe Recovery PA
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton

Mr. Sanders has more to say on the issue of drug policy reform of any current presidential candidate, including republicans.

In the current statement issued on his website, nonviolent drug offenders should receive treatment instead of incarceration, which has been shown to save money from the costs of imprisonment and instead get users back into the workforce.

He also contends that the war on drugs is a failure.



The website also states:

“Bernie believes the current prohibition of drug use, colloquially known as the “war on drugs,” is a failed policy. He co-sponsored a bill to reduce recidivism, allowing incarcerated offenders access to pharmacological drug treatment.”

“Bernie has opposed expanding the war on drugs by voting “no” both on military border patrols to battle drugs and terrorism, and on plans to subject federal employees to random drug tests.”

Regarding the heroin and opioid epidemic, the site states that the U.S. does not have the infrastructure to confront the issue:

“Bernie recognizes that heroin use is startlingly high and supports preventative measures to increase education and rehabilitation in order to combat this epidemic.”

On Marijuana

At the October, 2015 CNN Democratic Primary debate in Las Vegas, Sanders was asked about legalizing recreational use of marijuana. He had this to say:

“…I am seeing too many lives being destroyed for non-violent offenses. We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away, and yet we are imprisoning young people who are smoking marijuana. I think we have to think through this war on drugs which has done an enormous amount of damage.”

Also on the website:

“Bernie supports the medical use of marijuana and the rights of states to determine its legality. He co-sponsored the States’ Rights to Medical Marijuana Act in 2001.”

“Bernie wants to learn more about the impact that recreational legalization will have in states such as Colorado in order to determine whether or not he supports it: “Vermont voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and I support that.”

Sanders also co-sponsored the Industrial Hemp Act, which seeks to amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from being defined as “marijuana”.


From what I could find in my research, the Democratic candidates, in general, are more outspoken about drug policy reform, and unafraid of sounding too liberal. You can read about the Republican candidate’s views here.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

Related: Heroin and Opiate Addiction to Receive Federal Funding

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