Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a 2024 Democratic presidential candidate, says that he would legalize marijuana and psychedelics if elected to the White House—and he’d tax both substances, using revenue to create “healing centers” where people recovering from drug addiction could learn organic farming as a therapeutic tool. He also voiced support for freeing up banking services for the cannabis industry.
The candidate’s position on drug policy reform had been vague around the time he entered the race—but it’s quickly come into sharp focus as he promotes progressive policies that in some cases go well beyond that of incumbent President Joe Biden.
During a wide-ranging town hall event with NewsNation on Wednesday, Kennedy talked about his own struggles with addiction during his youth and the lessons that he’s taken away from his decades in recovery. While he said he’s generally not one to recommend a drug to treat substance misuse, he’s seen in his own family how psychedelics can facilitate the type of psychological healing needed for long-term recovery.
“I would legalize psychedelic drugs—some form of legalization,” he said, adding that he doesn’t necessarily envision a commercial market where anyone could visit a shop to buy the substances, but that there should be regulated access. His plan doesn’t stop with simple legalization, however.
“I’m going to decriminalize marijuana on a federal basis, allow the states to regulate it, continue to tax it federally and use those taxes to fund the recovery programs,” he said. “And I would do the same thing for psychedelic drugs, which I do not think should be criminalized.”
The cannabis and psychedelic tax-funded recovery program that he has in mind is inspired by an Italian treatment center called San Patrignano, which takes people struggling with addiction, or those who are at-risk, and provides support through an agriculturally centered approach. Residents become involved in activities such as gardening, forestry and animal care.
“That’s what we need to build here,” he said. “What I would do as president is I would decriminalize marijuana. I will make safe banking laws for people who are selling it, I will tax it federally and I will use that money to build these healing centers in rural areas—depressed rural areas—all over the country, where kids can grow organic food and eat well and heal themselves spiritually, physically and emotionally.”
The note about “safe banking laws” seems to be a reference to the bipartisan Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to protect financial institutions that work with state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. However, the proposal to impose a federal tax on marijuana sales would go much further than that incremental reform.
He also criticized much of the existing approach to drug treatment in the U.S.
“I have a very good idea of what works and a vision for what we need to do in this country—and we need to make addiction treatment easy, simple, cheap,” Kennedy said. “A lot of the [drug treatment] industry has devolved, because of a variety of factors, into almost a predatory industry.”
With respect to psychedelics, the candidate said that he’s reviewed studies on the substances, and “there’s so many people being helped in different ways by them, and we have to make it easier—maybe to prescribe them or to give them through therapeutically.”
“I don’t know about just buying them in stores. I have to look at all that,” he said. “But in one way or another, we need to make it easy for people to use them in ways that could benefit our children and could benefit everybody. I’ve seen it in my own family, the benefits of it.”
He said that he’s “seen miraculous recoveries from psychedelic drugs from PTSD from veterans who have who have used it, from people who have suffered severe depression, OCD and many, many other injuries.”
“I’m not saying blanket legalization—but we need to make it easy for psychiatrists and therapists who are trained to be able to use this on their patients [as] an experiment and see if we get good results,” Kennedy said.
He was also asked about the stigmatizing way that some have described the current president’s son’s struggles with substance misuse and said simply that addiction “is a tragedy and it’s cunning, it’s incomprehensible, it’s baffling and it’s really difficult to deal with. I wish him and his family the best.”
The candidate’s comments come just days after he took a hit at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), sharing a Marijuana Moment article about the Republican presidential candidate’s opposition to federally decriminalizing marijuana.
Kennedy, the son of former Attorney General Robert Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, said that he would enact cannabis reform as president and said that the current state-federal policy conflict is “absurd.”
While Kennedy’s views around vaccines have earned him criticism from many Democrats, he seems eager to distinguish himself in other ways on the drug policy front as he makes the case to voters that he should be nominated over Biden.
In another unexpected twist to come out of this election cycle, Biden’s younger brother disclosed on a radio show on Wednesday that the president is “very open-minded” about the use of psychedelic medicines to treat addiction.
Marijuana Moment recently asked a top Biden official, U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, about the department’s current thinking on psychedelics policy, but he said that he needed to “defer” to the expertise of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which has been actively promoting funding opportunities to study the science and laws around psychedelics.
Meanwhile, another member of the Kennedy family—then-Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA)—who stood opposed to marijuana reform during his time in Congress, also said in 2020 that he changed his views and backs legalization and supports exploring the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Image element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.