Cruz Or Rubio: Who Is The Lesser Of Two Evils On Cannabis?

If the results from the Iowa caucus can be trusted, the fight for the Republican nomination has become a three-way race among Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz (Texas) and Senator Marco Rubio (Florida). Since we know Trump's positions on everything from immigration to Justin Bieber (and marijuana of course), we thought we'd focus on where Cruz and Rubio stand on the cannabis issue. We should start by saying that neither one of them receives high grades from the Marijuana Policy Project (Rubio gets a D, Cruz a C).

Ted Cruz: Open to change or a flip-flopper?

Depending on who you ask, Ted Cruz has either "evolved" or "flip-flopped" on the cannabis issue. However, the underlying thread in his changing position is that he's open to examining and discussing cannabis with Americans.

Cruz made his first major foray into the cannabis issue in January 2014, when he delivered the keynote address at a conference held by the Texas Public Policy Foundation. His address has been interpreted as being highly critical of President Barack Obama for not enforcing federal law in Colorado, which suggests Cruz was in favor of prohibition.

But what Cruz actually said wasn't against legalization as much as President Obama's decision to essentially condone crime in America by neither enforcing prohibition in Colorado nor consulting with Congress to revise federal laws on cannabis.

"A whole lot of folks now are talking about legalizing pot....And you can make arguments on that issue. You can make reasonable arguments on that issue. The president earlier this past year announced the Department of Justice is going to stop prosecuting certain drug crimes. Didn't change the law."

He then added:

"You could go to Congress, you can get a conversation, you could get Democrats and Republicans who would say, 'We ought to change our drug policy in some way,' and you could have a real conversation, you could have hearings, you could look at the problem, you could discuss common sense changes that maybe should happen or shouldn't happen.This president didn't do that. He just said, 'The laws say one thing' — and mind you these are criminal laws, these are laws that say if you do 'X, Y, and Z' you will go to prison. The president announced, 'No, you won't.'"

But despite that scathing rebuke, Cruz shifted toward Obama's stance just over a year later. In an interview with The Texas Tribune published on Mar. 24, 2015, Cruz said:

"I don't support drug legalization, but I do support the Constitution. I think individual states can choose to adopt it. So if Texas had it on the ballot, I'd vote against it, but I respect the authority of states to follow different policies."

Since then, Cruz has stuck with this stance, which is similar to the position of GOP rivals Trump and Carly Fiorina, who also think the federal government should respect a state's right to decide the legality of cannabis. Last April, the Texas senator reiterated and expanded on his stance in an interview with conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt:

"I think it is appropriate for the federal government to recognize that the citizens of those states have made that decision, and one of the benefits of we can now watch and see what happens in Colorado and Washington State. There have been lots of theoretical arguments for a long time about the consequences of legalizing marijuana. We can now see. If those states suddenly see a dramatic increase in teen drug use, if they see a dramatic increase in crime, if they see significant harmful effects coming from it, I suspect other states are going to be far less eager to walk down that road."

So it's up to legal states to prove Cruz wrong by becoming exemplars instead of cautionary tales.

In the meantime, it's safe to conclude that Cruz is neither a crusader for prohibition nor an advocate for legalization. Although his stance has shifted, his views remain consistent in that he's keeping an open mind about the cannabis question and allowing others to express their opinions on it - whether that be through a dialogue or a ballot initiative.

And while he's opposed to legalization, he is in favor of cracking pot-brownie jokes. He made one at a 2014 conference in Texas. And he updated it again for this address at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference - or as Cruz called it, "The Magical Mystery Hannity Hour".


Marco Rubio: consistent and/or contradictory

While Ted Cruz was calling for more conversation on cannabis, Marco Rubio was getting tightlipped. In an interview with ABC and Yahoo News from May 19, 2014, Rubio refused to discuss whether he ever used cannabis because that revelation might endanger American children:

"Here's the problem with that question in American politics: If you say that you did, then suddenly there are people out there saying 'Well, it's not a big deal. Look at all these successful people who did it.' And I don't want my kids to smoke marijuana. And I don't want other people's kids to smoke marijuana. I don't think there's a responsible way to recreationally use marijuana."

Then he took a hardline stance against the rights of states to legalize cannabis:

"Marijuana is illegal under federal law. That should be enforced. You know, I understand that states have decided to legalize possession under state law, but the trafficking, the sale of these products - that's a federal crime."

Unlike Cruz, Rubio hasn't "evolved" or "flip-flopped" over time. Rubio isn't interested in allowing states to experiment with legalization. Rather than study legal states in order to justify maintaining or reforming federal drug laws, Rubio wants to uphold the status quo. In an interview with Hugh Hewitt last April, Rubio said he would enforce federal cannabis laws if he became president:

Hewitt asked, "If you're the president, will you enforce the federal drug laws and shut down the marijuana trade?"

Rubio responded: "Yes. Yes, I think, well, I think we need to enforce our federal laws. Now do states have a right to do what they want? They don't agree with it, but they have their rights. But they don't have a right to write federal policy as well...I don't believe we should be in the business of legalizing additional intoxicants in this country for the primary reason that when you legalize something, what you're sending a message to young people is it can't be that bad, because if it was that bad, it wouldn't be legal."

His stance is somewhat confusing. Is he saying that states can change state law, but they are still subject to federal prohibition? If so, it seems that Rubio is okay with Colorado and Washington legalizing cannabis on a state level as a symbolic gesture; they would still have to obey federal drug laws. Reporters have pressed Rubio to clarify his confusing position, but he keeps evading the issue.

So Rubio clearly opposes legalization. And he's spoken out against decriminalization as recently as July 2014. But he is open-minded about limited medical marijuana use. In an August 2015 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Rubio told Chuck Todd:

"I've said that I'm open to medicinal uses of anything, in particular marijuana. And if in fact it goes through the FDA process, and you can come up with a proven medicinal benefit to that substance, I'm open to that."

Rubio was likely referring to comments made in 2014, when he said he didn't oppose the medical use of marijuana so long as patients weren't getting high. That means he's favorable toward CBD-based treatments that do not create the euphoric feeling caused by THC.

However, medical marijuana is still federally prohibited in America, so Rubio's views toward it conflict with what he's said about maintaining the status quo. He's essentially saying that he wants to enforce federal law for recreational use, while allowing states to continue experimenting with medical marijuana. In a similar way, he's saying states can legalize cannabis, but they still have to obey federal prohibition. In short, his views are both more consistent and more contradictory than Cruz's.

So if you're interested in cannabis reform, and you had to choose had to choose between the two, Cruz is clearly more progressive...for now, at least.

In the meantime, check out this clip of Rubio getting cornered on cannabis by a senior citizen:

h/t Marijuana Politics, Texas Cannabis Report, Forbes, Reason, Texas Tribune, Tampa Bay Times, NBC News

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