2016 Republican Presidential Candidate Views on Drug Policy Reform

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2016 Republican Presidential Candidate Views on Drug Policy

What are the Republicans candidates’ views on drug policy? Why has this not been more hotly debated? Does it have to do with bureaucracy? Or just not knowing what to do about the war on drugs?

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex)

Well, to start, it’s complicated.

Just a year ago, Cruz backed a sentencing reform bill which Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grasley referred to as both “lenient” and “dangerous”. However, a few months later Cruz attacked Grassley’s bill as well, for pretty much the same reasons.

Grassley’s bill was approved last October – Cruz voted against it. But ironically, in some ways Cruz’s own bill was more lenient than Grassley’s.

Consider the Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced Feb. 2015, which was cosponsored by Cruz. The bill included:

  • Crack penalties reduced by Congress in 2010 would be made retroactive.
  • Third drug offenses would be reduced from mandatory life to 25 years.
  • Many mandatory penalties for drug offenses reduced by half, including 20-, 10-, and 5-year terms.

Grassley’s bill, on the other hand, had more modest penalty reductions, and increases in the penalties for other crimes. But Cruz complained that “7,082 federal prisoners would be eligible for release”. under Grassley’s bill. Yet, the bill he once endorsed would had nearly the same result.

Cruz said;

“I cannot go along with legislation that could result in more violent criminals being released to the streets and potentially more lives being lost….We know to an absolute certainty that an unfortunately high percentage of those offenders will go and commit subsequent crimes.”

The general consensus is that Cruz tightened up his views on drug reform because he was afraid of alienating conservative voters.

Drug Policy | Just Believe Recovery PAOn Marijuana Legalization

In the past, Cruz criticized Obama administration drug policy for non-enforcement of federal laws in Colorado and Washington after Marijuana was legalized.

However, in 2015 he moderated his views stating that we should “watch and see what happens in Colorado & Washington” and that he doesn’t support drug legalization, but does support the constitution.




Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

Rubio appears to be a supporter of drug reform, but like other conservative candidates, he is very careful how he approaches the subject.

From the book, entitled “Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out on Criminal Justice Reform”:

“But when we consider changing the sentences we impose for drug laws, we must be mindful of the great successes we have had in restoring law and order to America’s cities since the 1980s drug epidemic destroyed lives, families, and entire neighborhoods. I personally believe that legalizing drugs would be a great mistake and that any reductions in sentences for drug crimes should be made with great care.”

On Marijuana Legalization

From August, 2015 interview on Meet the Press:

“Well, I’ve said that I’m open to medicinal uses of anything, and particularly marijuana. And if, in fact, it goes through the FDA process and you can come up with a proven medicinal benefit to that substance, I’m open to that. I’m not in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, and I never have been.”

Basically, Rubio seems to be okay with medical marijuana, but not legalization for recreational use.

Donald Trump

Trump has changed his position on drug policy over the years, but on the other hand, he never had to worry about what he said as a presidential candidate until recently.

In 1990, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune quoted Trump as stating that drug enforcement was a joke, and that drugs should be made legal to “take the profit away from these drug czars.” He also said that the only way to actually win the war on drugs was to legalize and use taxes to fund drug education and prevention programs.

In November, 2015, he was interviewed on ABC This Week. As to why he modified his stance on drug legalization, Trump had this to say:

“Well, I did not think about it, I said it’s something that should be studied and maybe should continue to be studied. But it’s not something I’d be willing to do right now. I think it’s something that I’ve always said maybe it has to be looked at because we do such a poor job of policing.”

“And if you’re not going to want to do the policing, you’re going to have to start thinking about other alternatives. But it’s not something that I would want to do.”

On Marijuana Legalization

More recently (June 2015) Trump told the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference:

“Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it’s bad. And I feel strongly about that.”

“If they vote for it, they vote for it. But they’ve got a lot of problems going on right now, in Colorado. Some big problems. But I think medical marijuana, 100 percent.”

In October, 2015, Trump told the Washington Post:

“In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state. Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.”


The candidates appear to have some concern for drug policy reform and possibly sentencing issues, but are sort of tip-toeing around and changing their minds. They probably all know that the war on drugs is a disastrous failure, and yet, the conservative values of their supporters prevent them from saying anything too controversial on the subject.

You can also read 2016 Democratic Presidential Candidate Views on Drug Policy Reform.

Related: Senate Addresses Opioid and Heroin Addiction



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