Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a member of Congress since 2013 and previously a Hawaii state legislator and Honolulu city councilmember, announced she was seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on January 11, 2019 and dropped out of the race on March 19, 2020.
In her formal campaign launch speech, she criticized a criminal justice system that “puts people in prison for smoking marijuana while allowing corporations like Purdue Pharma, who are responsible for the opioid-related deaths of thousands of people, to walk away scot-free with their coffers full.”
This piece was last updated on March 19, 2020 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race. It will continue to be updated on a rolling basis.
Legislation And Policy Actions
Gabbard has cosponsored a large number of cannabis-related bills during her time in Congress, and she was the lead sponsor of a measure to require the federal government to study the impact of state marijuana legalization, which she reintroduced in April 2019.
Also that month, the congresswoman introduced legislation that’s designed to end prohibition by federally descheduling marijuana.
“This is affecting those dealing with opioid addiction, this is affecting farmers, this is affecting small business owners, this affecting our veterans and those who are locked up in our broken criminal justice system because of this prohibition,” Gabbard said in an interview while discussing her bill. “That’s what my bill seeks to do: end prohibition very simply.”
Gabbard signed onto far-reaching legislation to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and withhold federal funds from states that disproportionately enforce cannabis laws in 2018 and 2019.
She also cosponsored a bill filed by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), chair of the Judiciary Committee, that would similarly deschedule marijuana but would also institute a federal tax on cannabis sales with some funds being directed toward programs to repair the harms of the war on drugs.
“Millions of Americans have fallen victim to the failed War on Drugs, tearing families apart, disproportionately harming minority communities, and overcrowding an already strained prison system. Marijuana use is a personal choice and should not be a criminal act,” she said in a press release about the legislation. “For many years I have worked to end the marijuana prohibition and am proud to push this legislation forward that will begin to right the wrongs of the past, and invest in communities who have been most harmed.”
In July 2019, Gabbard introduced a wide-ranging hemp bill that calls on multiple federal agencies to issue guidelines and encourage federal research into the crop’s many potential uses, including to clean up nuclear contamination, treat conditions that commonly afflict veterans such as post-traumatic stress disorder and incorporate it into public school lunches.
“The hemp industry is poised to grow rapidly, having a billion dollar impact on the U.S. economy and creating thousands of jobs,” she said in a press release. “Hemp-based materials have the potential to transform industries from health care to domestic manufacturing to affordable, sustainable housing construction, and more.”
Other bills she’s backed would shield medical and recreational marijuana states from federal interference, legalize industrial hemp, protect banks that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators, provide tax fairness for the cannabis industry, address various aspects of the federal-state marijuana policy gap, remove roadblocks to research and exempt CBD from the CSA.
She was the lead Democratic cosponsor of another measure to federally deschedule marijuana.
Gabbard, who served in a medical unit in the Hawaii Army National Guard, has also cosponsored several pieces of legislation aimed at expanding access to medical cannabis for veterans. That includes one bill that would block the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from denying benefits to patients who use marijuana, another that would require the VA to survey patients and caregivers on cannabis use and a bill that would require VA to conduct clinical trials on the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis for veterans.
She signed onto a House resolution meant to express the chamber’s sentiment that the drug war has failed and apologize to “individuals and communities that were victimized by this policy.” She also cosponsored a separate resolution calling on states to “address disparities in the cannabis marketplace participation and to address, reverse, and repair the most egregious effects of the war on drugs on communities of color, in particular to those who now hold criminal records for a substance that is now legal and regulated.”
Gabbard has also consistently voted to support marijuana amendments on the House floor. For example, she supported two measures to protect state medical cannabis laws from federal interference as well as a broader proposal to shield all state marijuana laws, including those allowing recreational use. She voted yes on three separate amendments to allow military veterans to get medical cannabis recommendations from their Department of Veterans Affairs doctors. A measure to protect banks from being punished for working with marijuana businesses from businesses also got an aye from Gabbard. And she supported a proposal to shield people complying with state CBD medical cannabis laws from federal enforcement, as well as four separate amendments to protect state industrial hemp programs from interference.
On The Campaign Trail
“The fact that marijuana’s still a Schedule I drug is unacceptable in the harm that it is causing to the people of our country and to taxpayers as well,” Gabbard told Marijuana Moment in a March 2019 interview.
“Regardless of who [the Democratic presidential nominee] is, this is a major issue I’m putting at the forefront of my campaign and continuing the work that I’ve been doing in Congress to bring about this change,” she said. “It’s something I’ve continued to bring up in bigger cities as well as small towns in New Hampshire and Iowa and other states, and it’s an issue that is very exciting to voters who believe, as I do, that we’ve got to make this happen.”
The candidate touted legislation she introduced to deschedule cannabis, directing supporters to contribute to her campaign.
60% of voters support marijuana legalization—great to see Florida coming around! We just introduced a bill to end federal #marijuana prohibition because American citizens should not be made into criminals for choosing to smoke marijuana. Join us https://t.co/d4qbwO4Ip4#TULSI2020
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) March 8, 2019
In January 2020, Gabbard suggested that legalizing and regulating currently illicit drugs would help people suffering from addiction get into treatment and would be a superior policy compared to criminalizing these individuals.
“I think we need to look at the model in Portugal where there has been decriminalization and in some cases legalization and regulation so we treat substance abuse and addiction as a health care issue,” she said in an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity the next month.
This came months after Gabbard first indicated she’s supportive of decriminalizing possession of currently illegal substances like heroin and cocaine.
During a campaign stop in Iowa, she said, “Stop throwing people in prison for smoking a joint and instead go after those like Purdue Pharma who are proliferating their opioids on our streets and taking people’s lives.”
“Our archaic marijuana policies—based on stigma and outdated myths—have been used to wage a failed war on drugs,” she said in an interview with Cannabis Now. “The so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has exhausted our law enforcement resources, burdened our criminal justice system, decimated communities, fractured families, and turned everyday Americans into criminals. Over-criminalization and mass incarceration have become the new norm.”
During a televised town hall event, Gabbard declined to rule out pushing for broader decriminalization legislation to extend to drugs besides marijuana.
“The drug pushers at Big Pharma have enough crooked politicians in their pocket to maintain the appearance of legality – that’s the only difference between them & every other global drug cartel,” the congresswoman said in a tweet in March 2019. “I’m for legalizing marijuana & holding Big Pharma accountable.”
The drug pushers at Big Pharma have enough crooked politicians in their pocket to maintain the appearance of legality – that’s the only difference between them & every other global drug cartel. I’m for legalizing marijuana & holding Big Pharma accountablehttps://t.co/V4e5ypvyKq
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) March 21, 2019
She also discussed hemp, writing that the crop “played a vital role in the American economy through the early 1900’s until it was replaced w/ fossil fuel products.”
Hemp played a vital role in the American economy through the early 1900’s until it was replaced w/ fossil fuel products. Versatile & environmentally friendly, it represents great opportunity for small farmers. It’s time to bring it back!https://t.co/rzeDH6O0Gn
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) April 11, 2019
“Versatile & environmentally friendly, it represents great opportunity for small farmers,” she said. “It’s time to bring it back!”
Gabbard sought donations with a marijuana-themed campaign email blast on the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20. Supporters were given options to contribute $4.20, $14.20, $42.00 and $420.00.
“The recent arrest of a grandmother at the Dallas Fort Worth airport for possession of CBD oil—a resin from the cannabis plant used to treat arthritis and other ailments—underscores the absurdity and hypocrisy of federal laws related to marijuana,” she said in a tweet that included an accompanying video.
The recent arrest of a grandmother at the Dallas Fort Worth airport for possession of CBD oil—a resin from the cannabis plant used to treat arthritis and other ailments —underscores the absurdity and hypocrisy of federal laws related to marijuana. pic.twitter.com/SzuRNQIeNQ
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) May 30, 2019
Gabbard said her legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition would protect veterans from being “penalized or risk losing their VA benefits for working in the state-legalized cannabis industry.”
These veterans should not be penalized or risk losing their VA benefits for working in the state-legalized cannabis industry.
This must be corrected immediately by the VA, and Congress must pass my bipartisan Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. (2/2)
— Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiPress) June 6, 2019
“As president I’ll end the failed war on drugs, legalize marijuana, end cash bail, and ban private prisons and bring about real criminal justice reform,” Gabbard said.
As president I’ll end the failed war on drugs, legalize marijuana, end cash bail, and ban private prisons and bring about real criminal justice reform. I’ll crack down on the overreaching intel agencies and big tech monopolies who threaten our civil liberties and free speech pic.twitter.com/jzsETuCawI
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) July 9, 2019
During a Democratic presidential debate in July 2019, Gabbard took a hit at fellow contender Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) over her record as a prosecutor who enforced marijana prohibition and once opposed legalization while later joking about her own cannabis consumption.
Gabbard said during a post-debate interview that she is “deeply concerned about this record,” referring to the senator’s prosecutorial history. “There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana.”
At another debate, the candidate said it’s “important that we set the record straight and correct the racial injustices that exist in a very institutional way in our country, beginning with things that have to do with our criminal justice system—predominantly, the failed war on drugs that has been continuing to be waged in this country, has disproportionately impacted people of color and people in poverty.”
We must correct the institutional racial injustices in our country that disproportionately impact people of color & people in poverty. As president I will end the failed war on drugs & end the money bail system to correct injustices of the past – TULSI2020 #TulsiGabbard pic.twitter.com/Etbvbrnhpw
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) November 21, 2019
“Marijuana use is a personal choice, not a criminal act,” the congresswoman said in a campaign video.
At the New Hampshire Democratic Party convention in September 2019, Gabbard also discussed her plan to end the drug war and legalize marijuana. She also talked about these policies at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and New England Council’s Politics and Eggs breakfast.
Ahead of NORML’s congressional lobbying day event that month, Gabbard spoke to advocates about the need for reform.
Today, I met with activists, small business owners, and organizers from across the country who are working to end the federal prohibition on marijuana, dispelling myths and stigma with facts, data, and their own personal experience. pic.twitter.com/XqXWa9JTLQ
— Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiPress) September 11, 2019
“More than half the states across America have legalized/decriminalized marijuana in some form,” she said. “It’s time for Congress to catch up.”
She also participated in a “Rethinking Marijuana Roundtable” in New Hampshire in February 2020.
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) February 1, 2020
At another event in the state that month, the candidate spoke about the failure and harms of the war on drugs.
Gabbard also said she supports allowing interstate commerce for cannabis and social consumption sites.
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
After then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era Justice Department guidance on cannabis enforcement priorities in early 2018, she posted an extensive thread about why the move “will exacerbate an inhumane, ineffective system that tears families apart.
Veterans suffering from invisible wounds like Post-Traumatic Stress and chronic pain, or with addiction to opioids, deserve our commitment to researching every possible treatment to help them, and Sessions is failing them.
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) January 4, 2018
Sessions’ actions to protect the bottom lines of the for-profit private prison industry, and Big Pharma whose opioids and drugs flourish in part due to the marijuana prohibition, while trampling on states' rights and turning everyday Americans into criminals is an injustice.
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) January 4, 2018
States with medical marijuana have seen a correlating drop in opioid-related deaths. Sessions' decision will exacerbate an inhumane, ineffective system that tears families apart. We need criminal justice reform that reduces recidivism and the share of people that we lock up.
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) January 4, 2018
Later in the year, she turned her attention on Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) after he vetoed legislation that would have made opioid misuse a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. Gabbard has repeatedly touted research demonstrating that legal access to cannabis can reduce opioid overdoses and prescriptions, potentially mitigating a national drug crisis.
Gov Ige vetoed the bill saying people need to go thru bureaucratic red-tape & apply for approval from HI Dept of Health instead – knowing DOH won't approve because they don't think there's evidence that medical marijuana can effectively help those suffering from opioid addiction.
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) July 12, 2018
“With such a stark increase in prescription opioid use and dependence, heroin and synthetic drug overdose, and emergency room visits over the last decade, we must allow legal access to medical marijuana to help prevent opioid addiction and opioid-related deaths,” Gabbard said in a press release. “Understanding that people’s lives are at stake, I urge Governor Ige to reconsider and sign this legislation into law now.”
She also talked about the relationship between marijuana laws and opioid overdoses on Joe Rogan’s podcast.
“There are states that have legalized, whether it’s just medical or full legalization, there has proven to be a direct correlation to a drastic reduction in opioid-related deaths in those states where people have access,” she said. “If we know this, and every one of the leaders in this country are so concerned about this opioid epidemic, why hasn’t this been brought forward?”
As the opioid addiction epidemic continues to spread across the country, states that have legalized medical marijuana have seen addiction rates drop and opioid abuse deaths decrease by over 20%. 1/2
— Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiPress) November 28, 2017
I’m calling on @HHSGov to allow medical marijuana to serve as an alternative pain management treatment to opioids to help curb the ongoing opioid epidemic. 2/2
— Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiPress) November 28, 2017
In a 2017 interview with SFGate, the congresswoman discussed legislation she cosponsored to remove marijuana from the CSA, saying that current federal cannabis policies “have turned everyday Americans into criminals, torn families apart, and wasted huge amounts of taxpayer dollars to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate people for nonviolent marijuana charges.”
“The reality is, whether or not any individual chooses to consume cannabis is irrelevant. The important question is, should we really be sending people to jail and turning them into criminals for using a substance that is far less dangerous and harmful than alcohol? The answer is no. The fiscal and social impacts of our current policy, are having devastating effects on individuals and our communities and are only perpetuating the problem.”
Touting her Marijuana Data Collection Act on the House floor, Gabbard said “federal policies should be based on actual science and fact, not misplaced stigma and outdated myths.”
“For decades, bad data and misinformation have fueled the failed War on Drugs that’s wasted billions of taxpayer dollars incarcerating Americans for non-violent marijuana charges,” she said. “Our outdated marijuana policies have turned everyday Americans into criminals, strained our criminal justice system, cost taxpayers tremendously, and torn families apart—all for a substance that’s proven to be far less harmful and dangerous than alcohol.”
Prior to the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized industrial hemp, the congresswoman spoke out in support of allowing farmers to cultivate the crop.
Hemp is an incredibly versatile and environmentally restorative crop that has great potential – to make things like clothing, paper, houses and more. We must eliminate the obstacles blocking farmers and innovators from pursuing these opportunities.https://t.co/vrSjce36Um
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) October 14, 2018
“Our nation should empower our local farmers by allowing them to grow, cultivate and research industrial hemp that will create opportunity and strengthen our economy,” she said in a press release. “The DEA must honor and uphold the Congressional intent of federal legislation that allows states, like Hawai‘i, to establish programs to research the benefits, cultivation, and market of industrial hemp.”
She also tweeted that one answer to plastic trash pollution of the ocean is to use more “biodegradable materials like hemp.”
Seeing trash in the ocean when I was out surfing as a kid was one of my first motivations to get into public service. What's happening in our oceans is devastating. One answer to plastic pollution is biodegradable materials like hemp. https://t.co/sXreSK1EnJ
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) February 9, 2019
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Gabbard told Marijuana Moment in an interview that she has not personally tried marijuana.
“I don’t smoke marijuana. I never have,” she said. “But I believe firmly in every person’s freedom to make their own choices, and that people should not be thrown in jail and incarcerated or made into criminals for choosing to smoke marijuana whether it be for medicinal and non-medicinal purposes.”
In January 2020, she again said “I’ve never done drugs in my life, and I don’t drink.”
.@TulsiGabbard yesterday on supporting legalizing marijuana
“I've never done drugs in my life, and I don't drink. That's my choice, but I don't believe that if someone else makes different choices in their lives that they should be penalized and punished and made a criminal of.” pic.twitter.com/laWiuCpb5b
— Beatrice-Elizabeth Peterson (@MissBeaE) January 5, 2020
“That’s my choice, but I don’t believe that if someone else makes different choices in their lives that they should be penalized and punished and made a criminal of,” the congresswoman said.
Marijuana Under A Gabbard Presidency
Gabbard’s cosponsorship of a long list of cannabis reform bills and continual focus on the issue in public statements and social media posts indicate she would be an especially marijuana-friendly president if she were to earn the Democratic nomination and win the 2020 election.
Photo element courtesy of Lorie Shaull.