Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) is seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. So where does she stand on marijuana policy issues?
That’s a question that will be asked of all major candidates in the lead-up to the primaries, caucuses and Republican National Convention to select the party’s nominee.
Haley, who also served as United Nations (UN) ambassador under President Donald Trump, doesn’t have an especially extensive cannabis background, but she has said that she supports states’ rights to enact legalization—saying that the issue is “best decided” at the state level.
She also signed limited reform legislation into law during her time as governor. And she’s expressed openness to continuing conversations with advocates and lawmakers about the issue.
In general, it appears that she’s supportive of state-based reform action, at least on a limited basis, and is sympathetic to patients who’ve benefitted from medical cannabis. But her record is light, and she hasn’t yet indicated whether she’d seek to broadly end federal prohibition if elected.
Haley will be running against Trump for the nomination, as the former president announced his candidacy back in November, about two years after losing re-election to President Joe Biden.
This story was last updated on November 17, 2023 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.
Here’s where Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley stands on marijuana:
Legislation And Policy Actions
During her time as South Carolina’s governor from 2011-2017, Haley signed two pieces of modest cannabis reform legislation into law.
First, in 2014, Haley signed a bill from Sen. Tom Davis (R) to allow doctors to prescribe cannabidiol oil to patients suffering from severe epilepsy and for whom conventional therapies proved ineffective.
The measure from Davis, who has also championed broader medical marijuana legalization in the state, also called for a clinical trial at the Medical University of South Carolina to further explore the medical potential of CBD to treat the condition.
The same year, Haley put her signature on a bill to legalize industrial hemp in South Carolina and remove the nonintoxicating form of the cannabis plant from the state’s definition of illegal marijuana.
Advocates and hemp stakeholders applauded these actions. Limited as they might have been, they represented progress in the deep red state. And each year since, Davis has worked to build on the medical cannabis reform.
The senator recently filed a revised version of his medical marijuana legalization bill for the 2023 session. Haley’s position on the broader policy change is unclear, though she indicated in 2014 that she didn’t feel the state was ready to go beyond limited CBD oil for patients.
On The Campaign Trail
Haley said in May 2023 that it’s “really important” that states have the right to set their own marijuana policies regardless of ongoing federal prohibition. “I think these types of decisions are best decided at the state level,” she told WMUR-TV. “It’s where people can show the power of their voice. Some states will want to see it, and that allows them the right to do that. Some don’t want to see it, and that allows them that right.”
In an appearance at the 2023 Family Leadership Summit in July, Haley suggested that cocaine found in the White House must have belonged to a senior official because, she said, the area where it was discovered can only be accessed by top officials and staff. “If you’ve got somebody doing cocaine deciding on national security, that’s what I’m worried about,” she said.
Haley said that, if elected, she would spend special ops military forces across the border to Mexico to target drug cartels, stating that the U.S. should treat traffickers “like the terrorists that they are.”
“I would send special operations in there and eliminate them just like we eliminated ISIS and make sure that they know there’s no place for them,” she said.
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
Asked about cannabis legalization in 2014, the then-governor said that the state has “tried to do some sentencing reform in the past and we’re in the process of analyzing whether that’s worked.”
“For marijuana reform, I’m not there,” she added. “I know the legislators have stated—there’s a bill coming through now that they’re starting to do, but I don’t get a sense from the people of South Carolina, nor do I feel that at this point, it’s a hot topic or something that is moving forward. We’re watching the other states do what they can—which, again, I appreciate that states can make those decisions,” she added. “While they are doing that in the best interest of them, we have not seen that as a priority and in the best interest of South Carolina.”
Haley also met with medical cannabis advocates in 2016, including a girl named Dixie Pace who suffered from severe epilepsy and whose mother pushed the legislature to enact reform.
The governor was “very receptive and sweet to Dixie,” a person who attended the meeting told FITSNews at the time.
Marijuana is noticeably absent on Haley’s social media accounts, though she has commented on broader drug policy issues since leaving her position as a UN ambassador in 2018.
One of the more telling posts came as a reply to a person whose comment has since been deleted.
She wrote: “I have been to Afghanistan and am aware of how we have worked on replacing poppy production as well as trying to curb other drug production but it is not working. After all these years we haven’t dented what is happening there.”
Thank you. I have been to Afghanistan and am aware of how we have worked on replacing poppy production as well as trying to curb other drug production but it is not working. After all these years we haven’t dented what is happening there. I appreciate your response.
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) July 28, 2019
While not an explicit endorsement of taking a different approach to prohibition and eradication, it signals an awareness of the ineffectiveness of the policy, at least as it’s been applied for poppy production—a perspective that could easily transfer to marijuana.
On the other hand, though, Haley has also suggested support for border crackdowns to stop the flow of drugs.
Days before announcing her presidential bed she tweeted that “to stop drugs pouring over the border, we need a president willing to defend the border.”
To stop drugs pouring over the border, we need a president willing to defend the border.
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) February 8, 2023
“Without borders, we aren’t a country. Biden’s failed policies have lit our southern border on fire and led to countless border deaths and drugs flowing throughout our communities,” Haley said in December. “If we don’t right this ship now, there’s no telling how bad it can get.”
Without borders, we aren't a country. Biden's failed policies have lit our southern border on fire and led to countless border deaths and drugs flowing throughout our communities.
If we don't right this ship now, there's no telling how bad it can get. pic.twitter.com/U4045DDllA
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) December 26, 2022
Drug policy experts would likely criticize the candidate’s characterization of the issue as an oversimplification—and one that was repeatedly echoed by Trump during his campaign and presidency. But the comments nevertheless offer a window into Haley’s international drug policy stance and how it overlaps with her immigration position.
In 2019, Haley criticized federal spending on substance treatment in Afghanistan, arguing that money should instead “be going towards drug addiction in the US.”
This is yet another example of how our govt needs to be smart on how we spend foreign aid. This $50 million should be going towards drug addiction in the US, NOT Afghanistan. We need common sense when it comes to spending. #EveryDollarCounts https://t.co/HtTijt1W4S
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) July 28, 2019
Haley discussed drug policy issues a couple of times during her Senate confirmation process prior to becoming UN ambassador in 2017.
She told one senator who asked about the bloody “drug war” in the Philippines that extrajudicial killings of suspects by police there constitutes a violation of basic human rights, saying that she is “prepared to speak up on anything that goes against American values” and that “we have always been the moral compass of the world, and we need to continue to act out and vocalize that as we go forward.”
Another lawmaker asked about cooperation with Mexico to combat drug cartels.
“Drug trafficking has destabilized Latin America and the expansion of fentanyl trafficking and precursor chemicals used in its production have become lucrative sources of revenue for Chinese criminals,” Haley replied. “The expansion of Mexican origin heroin has devastated communities throughout the U.S., with an immeasurable human toll. Unfortunately these drugs have a higher profit rate and are cost effective to smuggle into the U.S. than marijuana and cocaine. We must work to identify and shut down the illicit trafficking infrastructure from physical to financial and continue working to weaken the influence of drug trafficking organizations.”
Personal Experience With Marijuana
It does not appear that Haley has publicly commented about any personal experience with marijuana.
Marijuana Under A Haley Presidency
Given what limited information there is available about Haley’s position on cannabis policy beyond medical cannabis and hemp, it’s difficult to conclusively say how she’d approach the issue in the Oval Office.
Her support for states’ rights to decide on cannabis policy is a welcome sign for advocates that she would not likely seek to interfere in local legalization efforts.
However, her focus on increasing border enforcement to mitigate drug trafficking, combined with her reluctance to embrace going beyond CBD oil at the state level as governor, leaves room to speculate that she would not be a champion of the types of broad reforms that advocates are pushing for in the modern era.
Her record does also signal a level of sympathy for medical marijuana patients, but it remains unclear whether she’d be a vocal ally for the reform movement.
Marijuana Moment reached out to Haley’s campaign for comment on the candidate’s current thinking on cannabis policy matters, but a representative did not respond by the time of publication.