Mark Sanford, a former congressman who also served as governor of South Carolina, announced on September 8, 2019 that he was mounting a primary challenge against President Donald Trump, and he dropped out of the race on November 12.
The third candidate to enter the GOP race aside from the incumbent, Sanford’s voting record and comments on marijuana policy indicate that as president he’d be supportive of efforts to at least protect states that have legalized cannabis from federal intervention. Here’s a look at Sanford’s stance on marijuana.
This piece was last updated on November 13, 2019 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.
Legislation And Policy Actions
During his time in the House of Representatives, Sanford cosponsored five pieces of cannabis legislation—including bills to shield medical cannabis states from enforcement actions under the Controlled Substances Act.
Sanford consistently voted in favor of House floor amendments concerning cannabis reform, with a couple of exceptions. Besides his two votes in support of protecting medical cannabis states (and one for CBD-only states) from federal interference, he was also one of 45 Republicans to back a measure that would extend that protection to adult-use states as well.
Sanford also voted for a 2014 measure to provide marijuana businesses with access to banking services.
On four occasions, the congressman voted in favor of hemp measures, though he voted against one hemp measure in 2015 for reasons that aren’t clear. There were two similar proposals on the day of the vote, with one amendment coming from a Republican that he supported and another from a Democratic that he voted against.
In another standout vote that doesn’t comport with his more recent record, Sanford voted for a resolution in 1998 that was meant to express “the sense of Congress that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug and should not be legalized for medicinal use.”
As governor in 2010, Sanford signed sentencing reform legislation that was meant to “reverse the trend toward incarcerating non-violent criminals who pose little or no risk to the public, discourage recidivism by providing inmates with a more closely supervised transition to society once their sentences have been served, and at the same time save taxpayers more than $400 million over the next five years.”
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
Though the former congressman hasn’t spent as much time and energy discussing his views on cannabis as most of the Democratic presidential candidates in the race, he has made clear that his position on the issue is informed by a federalist perspective that places emphasis on the importance of upholding states’ rights.
After then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance outlining federal marijuana enforcement priorities in 2018, Sanford took to the House floor to make a point about how the move was an infringement upon the principles of federalism.
“This is yet another example of how democracy can be hard. I guess it might be easier if a king just decided everything for us. But that’s not the American way,” he said. “We are an independent lot based on the traditions that were given to us by our Founding Fathers. Each one of us had a voice. We have a say.”
“Washington shouldn’t dictate how our coastline develops, or determine which businesses are illegal in a state like Colorado.”
In a Facebook post from 2017 about his support for legislation that would give cannabis businesses access to federal tax credits and deductions, Sanford said the “principle here is simple, if a state makes something legal…it ought to be treated on par and equally with other legal businesses in the state.”
Thirty states currently have legalized marijuana in some capacity, but because it’s classified as a Schedule I substance, small businesses in the states that sell marijuana legally are not allowed to deduct business expenses like payroll, rent, utilities, etc…
— Mark Sanford (Archived) (@RepSanfordSC) April 20, 2018
The Small Business Tax Equity Act enshrines the principle of federalism. If a state makes something legal, it ought to be treated on par and equally with other businesses in the state. https://t.co/PuGcAh5t20
— Mark Sanford (Archived) (@RepSanfordSC) April 20, 2018
The concept of federalism “very specifically applies to marijuana policy, wherein many states have legalized its medical use, and yet federal policy still works against what the states have decided,” he wrote.
“Whether you’re for or against the medical use of marijuana matters less than whether we really subscribe and adhere to the founders’ belief in federalism…because it was one of the key balancing tools to offsetting an overgrown and controlling federal government. In short, even with ideas we may not like, it’s important to adhere to federalism if you believe in limiting the size of our federal government.”
“Yeah, I voted accordingly,” Sanford said in 2017 after being asked whether he supports states’ right to legalize marijuana.
Sanford is asked if he supports states' right to legalize cannabis.
"Yeah, I voted accordingly." Says he supports federalism.
— Alexis Levinson (@alexis_levinson) February 18, 2017
In 2015, Sanford complained about federal barriers preventing South Carolina hemp farmers from fully capitalizing on the crop after the state legalized industrial hemp.
“Industrial hemp is not a drug – it’s used as a material in paper products, textiles, and plastics,” he said. “In fact, the U.S. imports more industrial hemp than any other country in the world, but a current federal ban means that state industries are having a hard time getting off the ground.”
“I don’t believe that the federal government should be in the business of penalizing someone for following state law, and in that vein, I hope this bill becomes law,” he added, referencing federal hemp legalization legislation he cosponsored.
Following a vote on an amendment to allow banks to service state-legal cannabis businesses, Sanford again tied the issue to federalism.
“Some say that because marijuana is illegal on the federal level, and banks are federally regulated, that the federal government should use its powers under the interstate commerce clause to block banks from doing any business with these companies,” he said. “In my mind though, the genius of what our founding fathers intended, and explicitly laid out in the Constitution, was that most powers were to be left to the states and individuals rather than the federal government.”
“Whatever side of the debate you fall on for having marijuana be illegal, applying the founding principle of federalism leads me to believe that states should not be constrained by the federal government in matters that most concern their own businesses and citizens. The beauty of the great American experiment and the founding fathers wisdom in including federalism is that it allows states to pioneer on ideas. We see whether they work or fail and the ways in which they do so. It is part of what allows our Republic to innovate and change and as these amendments came to the floor last night, I couldn’t help but think we would be wise to work to preserve that concept…whether we agree or disagree with the local perspective of other states affected.”
In 2018, Sanford condemned a House vote in favor of expanding the attorney general’s authority to add drugs to the list of federally controlled substances. An example of the problem with that, he said, is that state-level marijuana legalization movement.
“I don’t know exactly where this goes, but if one believes in the principle of federalism, it’s important that an Attorney General not have sole discretion in stymying states’ efforts on this front,” he said.
He also used federalism to explain his vote in favor of a spending bill amendment granting VA doctors with the ability to recommend medical cannabis, writing that his vote “came down to one question – should the federal government be in the business of usurping all state law?”
“The beauty of the American experiment is that it included ‘federalism,’ which allows states to pioneer ideas,” he said. “Some we may agree with, others not…but the operative question in this instance is whether or not the federal viewpoint should always prevail over the view of the state.”
He made the same point in a post after voting for a similar measure in 2015.
Sanford was critical of the federal drug scheduling system in a 2016 Facebook post where he noted that cannabis oil is listed in a more restrictive category that cocaine and prescription opioids.
“This is strange given that opioid painkillers are currently causing an epidemic that kills about 50,000 Americans a year and is at such a crisis level that Congress recently passed a bill dealing with it,” he said, adding that a Schedule I classification inhibits research into the substances.
“This is a problem. A lot of people at home have contacted me about cannabis oil being part of the treatment for epilepsy and, in other cases, things like the nausea that comes with chemotherapy. Whether these things are true or not could be debated, but why would you put this drug on a list that would prevent research so that we might end the debate? Either it will help people or it won’t, but it just seems to me to be burying one’s head in the sand to say we won’t allow any research going forward to determine these things.”
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Sanford has repeatedly said that he’s “never used any drug” and doesn’t want his children to use them either.
Marijuana Under A Sanford Presidency
If there’s one thing consistent about Sanford, it’s that he holds the principles of federalism in high esteem and has linked numerous votes in favor of marijuana reform to states’ rights. Though there’s not much in his record to indicate that he would necessarily embrace comprehensive legalization legislation at the federal level, it seems likely that he would oppose any federal crackdown on state-legal cannabis businesses if elected to the White House.
Wisconsin Governor Blasts Lawmakers For Not Legalizing Medical Marijuana Despite Public Support
The governor of Wisconsin called out state lawmakers on Wednesday for declining to pass legislation legalizing medical marijuana despite widespread public support for the policy.
“When more than 80 percent of our state supports medical marijuana…and elected officials can ignore those numbers without consequence, folks, something’s wrong,” Gov. Tony Evers (D) said during his annual State of the State address.
Watch Evers’s comments about public support for medical cannabis below:
He also cited contrasting public support support and lack of legislative action on issues such as expanding Medicaid and universal background checks for gun purchases.
While Evers had included both marijuana decriminalization and medical cannabis legalization in his budget proposal last year, Republican leaders stripped those policies from the plan. It’s not clear if he’ll attempt to pursue the policies through the budget again this year, or if lawmakers would be more inclined to support reform than the last round.
Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D) recently said she hopes that the legislature came come together around certain bipartisan issues such as medical marijuana. But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) said last month that there’s no such legislation he’s be willing to get behind.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) didn’t seem to close the door on the possibility of approving legalization legislation, however, but tempered expectations about when or how it would be achieved.
“It’s going to take a while,” he said last month. “It’s not like it’s a panacea that everybody thinks, ‘Oh, jeez this is an easy slam dunk.’ It’s a complicated issue that we want to get right.”
He also previously suggested that he’d only support a significantly limited program that would allow patients to access cannabis in pill form, raising doubts about whether Democratic lawmakers would be willing to advance such a reform.
While decriminalization didn’t come up in the governor’s speech, lawmakers did file a bill last year to remove criminal penalties for possession of up 28 grams of marijuana.
Not only is there broad public support for medical cannabis legalization based on polling, but local elections have also demonstrated that the people are ready for change. Three jurisdictions in the state voted in favor of non-binding resolutions expressing support for the legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes last year. That followed the approval of other cannabis ballot measures in 16 counties in 2018.
Evers reflected on the progress the state has made in the past year in a tweet sent during his speech, citing improvements to its hemp program as an example of the “many bipartisan successes” that have been achieved.
In my first State of the State Address, I called on the Legislature to set politics aside so we could get to work on the issues facing our state. One year later, I am proud that from improving our hemp program to expanding telehealth services, we had many bipartisan successes. pic.twitter.com/qCjGPWpzDW
— Governor Tony Evers (@GovEvers) January 23, 2020
Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D) weighed in on the State of the State speech as well, echoing Evers’s point about 80 percent support for medical cannabis.
Let’s review what WI wants:
✅ 80% support medical marijuana.
✅ 80% support universal background checks.
✅ 70% support accepting our Medicaid money.
Why does the majority ignore these issues? Partisan gerrymandering. #sots2020
— Dianne Hesselbein (@RepHesselbein) January 23, 2020
“Why does the majority ignore these issues?” she asked. “Partisan gerrymandering.”
Evers joined a growing list of governors who’ve discussed cannabis reform priorities for 2020.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included legalization in his budget plan this week. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) called for a state-run cannabis model in her budget plan. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said it’s “high time” to legalize in her State of the State address and put ending prohibition on the agenda for the short 2020 session. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said he wants to decriminalize cannabis possession and create a pathway for expungements in his annual address. And U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D) pushed lawmakers to legalize cannabis to raise revenue to support a government employees retirement fund in his State of the Territory address.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Congressman Visits Marijuana Dispensary On Behalf Of Bernie Sanders’s Presidential Campaign
A congressman and staffers for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) presidential campaign toured a marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas on Monday and discussed the need for federal cannabis reform.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who endorsed Sanders’s bid for the White House last week, shared photos on Twitter from the visit to NuWu Cannabis, a tribal-owned shop that features a consumption lounge and a drive-thru where consumers can buy marijuana products.
After years of an unjust War on Drugs, it’s time we work to ensure all communities can benefit from legalization—@BernieSanders marijuana legalization plan will do just that. pic.twitter.com/XFWmIZKuus
— Mark Pocan (@MarkPocan) January 21, 2020
“After years of an unjust War on Drugs, it’s time we work to ensure all communities can benefit from legalization—[Sanders’s] marijuana legalization plan will do just that,” the congressman tweeted.
While the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate wasn’t scheduled to attend the shop and has since had to drop campaign stops in order to participate in the Senate’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, Pocan and Nevada campaign staff were there on his behalf, Tick Segerblom, a Clark County commissioner and former state senator who helped coordinate the event, told Marijuana Moment.
“We showed him around, explained on how it works, explained how it’s organized under state law,” Segerblom said of Pocan. “He said he’d never seen anything like it.”
The congressman also talked with business owners about the importance of social equity within the marijuana industry. He didn’t purchase or sample any cannabis products, however.
Segerblom said that while Sanders wasn’t able to attend this tour, he believes it’s important for the candidate to participate in such events and talk about his reform agenda to distinguish himself in the race.
“There’s a lot of people who will vote on this issue, and since [former Vice President Joe Biden] has come out against legalizing cannabis, I think it’s a very important issue for him to emphasize,” he said.
It’s fitting that Pocan would tour a tribal-owned cannabis business, as he was the chief sponsor of a 2016 bill that would have protected tribes from losing federal funds if they enact a legal marijuana program. Although the congressman represents Wisconsin, which doesn’t even have a comprehensive medical cannabis program let alone full adult-use legalization, he has cosponsored several cannabis reform bills this Congress, including two that would end federal prohibition.
State-legal dispensaries are getting a lot of high-profile attention from politicians lately. For example, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg visited a Las Vegas marijuana shop last year, Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) paid a visit to a California dispensary and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) toured a business that makes CBD-infused chocolates.
Photo courtesy of Rep. Mark Pocan.
New Vermont Bill Would Decriminalize Psychedelics And Kratom
Vermont lawmakers filed a bill on Wednesday that would decriminalize three psychedelic substances as well as kratom.
Rep. Brian Cina (P/D) introduced the legislation, which would amend state law to carve out exemptions to the list of controlled substances. Psilocybin, ayahuasca, peyote and kratom would no longer be regulated under the proposal.
Cina told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview that he decided to pursue the policy change based on a “belief that I share with many people around the world that plants are a gift from nature and they’re a part of the web of life that humans are connected to.”
“Plants, especially plant medicines, should be accessible to people,” he said. “Use of plant medicine should be considered a health care issue, not a criminal issue.”
Whether plant medicines are used for treating pain or whether they’re used for seeking pleasure, that is a health care choice, and it’s a waste of society’s resources to criminalize healing practices that go back to the very roots of our humanity. https://t.co/hRDWWqa7yb
— Brian Cina (@briancinavt) January 22, 2020
While it remains to be seen whether the legislature will have the appetite to pursue the policy change, the bill’s introduction represents another sign that the psychedelics reform movement has momentum. Activists in about 100 cities across the U.S. are working to decriminalize a wide range of entheogenic substances, but the Vermont proposal is unique in that it’s being handled legislatively at the state level.
Text of the bill states that the four substances are “commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious, or entheogenic purposes.”
Larry Norris, cofounder of the national psychedelics reform group Decriminalize Nature, told Marijuana Moment that he’s especially encouraged by the use of the word “entheogenic,” a term that advocates are hoping to bring into the mainstream to more accurately describe the type of substances they want to decriminalize.
“It is exciting to see emerging interest at the state legislative level to support decriminalizing natural plants and fungi that are ‘commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious, or entheogenic purposes,'” he said. “The fact that the word entheogenic is making its way into the legislative lexicon speaks volumes for the shift in perspective that is happening nationwide.”
“While we were not involved in the drafting of this legislation, we look forward to offering any support and guidance to Representative Brian Cina in Vermont or any future state legislators aiming to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi,” Norris said.
Denver became the first city in the nation to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms last year, followed by a unanimous City Council vote in Oakland to make a wide range of psychedelics among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities. And while lawmakers have been comparatively slow to raise the issue in legislatures, activists in Oregon are working to put a therapeutic psilocybin initiative on the state’s 2020 ballot and, separately, a measure to decriminalize possession of all drugs with a focus on funding substance misuse treatment. In California, meanwhile, advocates are aiming to put psilocybin legalization before voters in November.
Part of the motivation behind the legislation was “recognizing that the decriminalization of mushrooms seems to be a next step in other places, and thinking that it might have greater success if we can make the point that in the path of decriminalization, the next step after cannabis is psilocybin mushrooms,” Cina said. “It was important for me to make a point about the significance of plants.”
“What it goes back to for me ultimately is that any kind of use of substances should be treated as a health care matter, not a criminal issue,” he said. “Whether those substances are used for treating pain or whether they’re used for seeking pleasure, that is a health care choice, and it’s a waste of society’s resources to criminalize a behavior that goes back to the very roots of our humanity.”
The bill currently has three cosponsors and has been referred to the Judiciary Committee. One of the cosponsors, Rep. Zachariah Ralph (P/D) told Marijuana Moment that he supports “the legalization of psychedelics because prohibition, generally, does not to work, and has continued to be enforced disproportionally against low income and minority communities.”
“Research at Johns Hopkins University and other facilities around the country on the medicinal use of psilocybin mushrooms are showing some promising results as a long term treatment of depression, addiction and anxiety,” he said. “This is especially important today as we deal with increased rates of suicides and drug overdoses across the nation and especially in Vermont.”
The bill’s introduction also comes as Vermont lawmakers express optimism about the prospects of expanding the state’s cannabis law to allow commercial sales.
While Gov. Phil Scott (R) has previously voiced opposition to allowing retail marijuana products to be sold, citing concerns about impaired driving, he recently indicated that he may be open to taxing and regulating the market. And according to top lawmakers in the state, the legislature is positioned to advance a cannabis commerce bill this session, with most members in favor of the reform move.
Vermont made history in 2018 by becoming the first state to pass marijuana legalization through the legislature, albeit with a noncommercial grow-and-give model. Now the question is whether lawmakers there will again make history by taking up psychedelics reform and decriminalizing these substances at the state level for the first time.
“We’ve decriminalized and then legalized and now might be regulating and taxing marijuana, which is a plant medicine,” Cina said. “But there are these other plant medicines that have been left behind.”
A Republican lawmaker in Iowa filed a bill to legalize certain psychedelics for medical purposes last year, but it did not advance.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.