Connect with us


Where Presidential Candidate Mike Pence Stands On Marijuana



Former Vice President Mike Pence has officially entered the race for the Republican 2024 presidential nomination, putting his drug policy positions and actions into focus again.

Pence, who also served as governor of Indiana, has long opposed even incremental cannabis reform efforts at the state and federal levels. During his time in the White House, for example, he spoke out against an attempt to pass a marijuana banking measure as part of a pandemic relief package.

Over his 16 years in Congress, he also consistently voted against legislation to protect state medical cannabis programs from federal interference.

He’s asserted that he believes cannabis is a gateway to other illicit drugs, and has voiced disapproval of decriminalizing simple possession. And while as governor he pushed the Indiana legislature to ramp up criminalization of illicit substances—saying Indiana was “leaning into the war on drugs”—he also signed into law a large-scale criminal justice bill that included provisions to reduce penalties for simple marijuana possession.

Pence also opposed syringe exchange programs, a harm reduction resource meant to curb the spread of diseases like HIV from contaminated needles, but he eventually authorized the service under mounting pressure from public health officials.

He’s competing for the nomination against several GOP candidates, including his former 2016 running mate President Donald Trump, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R).

Pence suspended his presidential campaign on October 28, 2023.

Here’s where Republican presidential candidate Mike Pence stands on marijuana:

Legislation And Policy Actions

Vice President (January 2017-January 2021)

In 2020, the vice president criticized lawmakers who sought to pass a bipartisan bill to protect banks that work with state-licensed marijuana businesses from federal penalties as part of a coronavirus relief package. He complained that the House-passed legislation “actually mentions marijuana more than it mentions jobs.”

“The American people don’t want some pork barrel bill coming out of the Congress when we’ve got real needs from working families,” he said.

That echoed points made by Pence’s chief of staff, who had described the Democratic proposal as a “liberal wish list” with “all sorts of things totally unrelated to coronavirus.”

“In one instance they have provided guarantees for banking access for marijuana growers,” the top Pence staffer said. “That has absolutely nothing to do with coronavirus.”

Pence served as vice president when the Justice Department under the administration rescinded the Obama-era Cole memo, which advised federal prosecutors to generally not pursue action against individuals for state-legal cannabis-related activity, except under a limited set of circumstances.

In 2020, the Justice Department asked a federal court to force California marijuana regulators to disclose documents about certain licensed cannabis businesses, and a federal court ruled that they must comply.

Under the Trump-Pence administration, the U.S. government backed a World Health Organization recommendation to remove marijuana from the most restrictive global drug scheduling category—though it opposed separate international cannabis reform proposals, including one to clarify that CBD is not under international control.

Another controversial administrative action concerned immigrants and marijuana. In April 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a memo stating that using marijuana or engaging in cannabis-related “activities” such as working for a dispensary—even in states where it’s legal—makes immigrants ineligible for citizenship because it means they don’t have “good moral character.”

In December 2019, the Justice Department issued a notice that it was seeking to make certain marijuana offenses, including misdemeanor possession, grounds to deny asylum to migrants.

One of the most significant cannabis developments to occur under the Trump-Pence administration was the federal legalization of hemp that was accomplished when the president signed the 2018 Farm Bill.

Indiana governor (January 2013-January 2017)

As governor, Pence signed lengthy criminal justice legislation in 2013 that included provisions to decrease penalties for simple marijuana possession in Indiana—reclassifying possession of more than 30 grams as a class A misdemeanor rather than a class D felony, for example—while also increasing penalties for those who deliver cannabis.

He advocated for increased criminalization as the legislation moved through the legislature, saying, “we need to focus on reducing crime, not reducing penalties”—and it was reported that Pence specifically sought more serious penalties for marijuana-related crimes as part of the bill.

“I think this legislation, as it moves forward, should still seek to continue to send a way strong message to the people of Indiana and particularly to those who would come into our state to deal drugs, that we are tough and we’re going to stay tough on narcotics in this state,” he said.

Pence’s deputy chief of staff participated in a summit in 2016 that focused on marijuana and synthetic drugs. The staffer said that the “safety and security of all Hoosiers is the highest priority for Governor Pence,” and he “recognizes the increasing negative role that drug abuse presents to our society.”

The governor faced significant criticism for resisting calls from experts and lawmakers to respond to a growing health crisis by permitting syringe exchange programs. Eventually, he did allow the services, however.

Pence also signed legislation in 2016 that reinstated a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for people convicted of selling meth or heroin if they have a prior distribution charge on their record.

Another bill he approved established a commission to study drug misuse issues at the state and local levels.

And he also signed measures to promote access to the anti-overdose drug naloxone and provide immunity for people who call emergency personnel for people at risk of overdosing.

“We are today, through this effort, making life-saving medications available that have saved lives, and will continue to save lives from overdose in the state of Indiana,” Pence said at a signing ceremony in 2016.

Congress (January 2001-January 2017)

On six separate occasions, the then-congressman voted against appropriations amendments to prevent the Justice Department from using its federal funding to interference in the implementation of state medical cannabis programs. He did so in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2012.

He also supported legislation that passed the House in 2008 that would have provided assistance to Mexico for counternarcotics enforcement purposes.

On The Campaign Trail

It does not appear that Pence has spoken about cannabis policy since entering the race for the party’s nomination.

Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts

During a gubernatorial debate in 2012, Pence said that he “would not support the decriminalization of marijuana” if elected.

“To be candid with you, growing up in the Hoosier State, I’ve seen too many people become involved with marijuana and have their lives sidetracked as a result,” he said.

“We’re to see marijuana become a gateway drug to even worse addictions on their part,” he said. “We need to get more serious about confronting the scourge of drugs, especially meth, in Indiana and decriminalization is not the right path in my honest opinion.”

In a 2020 debate, the then-vice president criticized current Vice President Kamala Harris over her prosecutorial record, without directly weighing in on marijuana reform, as she’d been asked about earlier in the debate.

“When you were when you were [district attorney] in San Francisco, when you left office, African Americans were 19 times more likely to be prosecuted for minor drug offenses than whites and Hispanics,” Pence said. “When you were attorney general of California, you increased report the disproportionate incarceration of blacks in California. You did nothing on criminal justice reform in California.”

Pence argued in favor of a proposed Mexican border wall during a speech at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) headquarters in 2019, saying it would assist drug interdiction efforts.

“Our state has been leaning into the war on drugs and will continue to go hard after those who would profit from selling drugs to our kids,” he said during a State of the State address in 2016.

Personal Experience With Marijuana

It does not appear that Pence has publicly commented on any personal experience with marijuana.

Marijuana Under A Pence Presidency

The former vice president has previously identified as a proud drug warrior who does not believe in modest reform such as decriminalization, even if he did at one point sign broad legislation that including provisions to lower certain penalties for cannabis possession.

He also routinely voted against state-level marijuana program protections in Congress, subscribes to the gateway drug theory for cannabis and has been critical of Democratic efforts to enact marijuana banking reform.

All of that points to a potential presidency where marijuana policy reform would not be an administrative priority, though it’s unclear if he would proactively work to disrupt existing markets as public support for reform grows and a more state legalization laws are enacted.

Where Presidential Candidate Chris Christie Stands On Marijuana

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
Become a patron at Patreon!

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Get our daily newsletter.

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox


Get our daily newsletter.