With the November Congressional elections right around the corner, you may be wondering where Robert “Bob” Menéndez (D-NJ) stands on cannabis legalization as he seeks re-election to a second term. The senior Senator from New Jersey has never been a champion for legalizing marijuana, but since The Garden State legalized medical marijuana eight years ago, Menéndez has emerged as a protector of states' right to allow cannabis use and conduct cannabis-related business.

Menéndez practiced law before entering public service, first becoming mayor of Union City in 1986, then a representative of New Jersey's 13th congressional district in the United States Congress (a seat he held for six two-year terms, from 1993 to 2006) before being appointed to fill a vacated seat in the U.S. Senate, which he won outright for his first full term in the 2012 election. He  is one of four Latinos now serving in the Senate.

When it comes to cannabis legalization, Menéndez has long shied from advocating for the reformation of federal laws. During a virtual debate in 2006, Menéndez was asked if he thought the federal government should curtail its penalties for marijuana and other banned drug substances when being used for medicinal purposes, and he replied:

“For those suffering uncontrollable pain from cancer and other diseases - for which no prescription drug provides relief - I believe we should review current law.”

However, Menéndez has worked to protect legalized marijuana; earlier this year, he wrote several letters advocating for the protection of cannabis legislation that's already in place. In January, Menéndez joined a bipartisan group of 15 other senators in writing to the Trump administration, formally asking that the Department of Justice respect states' laws about legal cannabis, and he  also helped write a letter urging the head of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to maintain the body's 2014 rules for banks and financial institutions that service marijuana-related businesses. In February, Menéndez wrote to the Senate Appropriations Committee specifically to ask that it respect and preserve state marijuana laws. In January, Menéndez also posted on Twitter:

“Medical marijuana dispensaries help many chronically ill NJans, including veterans, and provide a non-opioid alternative for those who badly need it. That's why I pressed Trump Admin. officials to keep in place guidance for banks who want to serve marijuana-related businesses.”

Our Grade: B-

Sen. Menéndez's acknowledgment that cannabis is a vital medical resource and his efforts to protect existing marijuana legislation in states where the herb is legal are commendable, but we would like to hear more about what he thinks about recreational cannabis.