Clinton Calls for Liberalizing Marijuana Laws

The Democratic front-runner still isn’t going as far on the issue as her top challenger.

Ron Sachs/Zuma; <a href="">Opra</a>/Shutterstock; illustration by Patrick Caldwell

Hillary Clinton moved ever so very slightly to the left on marijuana legalization over the weekend, after generally ducking the issue so far in her presidential campaign. During a town hall in South Carolina, the Democratic front-runner said that she’s in favor of changing the way the federal government regulates weed in order to allow researchers to explore the benefits of medical usage.

Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule 1 drug, alongside substances like heroin*, which means the government sees no legitimate uses for it. Clinton said that, as president, she’d reclassify marijuana to Schedule 2, the category for drugs like prescription painkillers. It would remain an illegal drug for everyday consumption but would be eligible for possible medical uses.

Clinton stopped short of the position taken by her leading Democratic opponent, Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator called it “absurd” last month that the feds treat marijuana the same way they do drugs like heroin, and pointed to the fact that anti-marijuana laws are enforced far more frequently against African Americans than against white users. Last week, Sanders introduced a bill in the Senate that would end the federal ban on marijuana. States could still ban recreational use under Sanders’ proposal, but states like Colorado and Washington that have already legalized the drug would no longer have to fear federal intervention.

Marijuana legalization is quickly becoming one of the top social causes among Democrats, with polls now showing over half of the country behind ending the prohibition. But Clinton has been tentative when discussing drug reform, responding to questions by saying that she’s keeping an eye on the state-level legalization experiments while still making up her mind on where she stands.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the classification of cocaine. It is a Schedule 2 drug, less strictly regulated than marijuana.