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Is Hillary Clinton Evolving on Cannabis? Maybe. Slowly. A Little.

As the Democratic National Convention opens in Philadelphia today, concerned cannabis consumers can’t help but wonder if Hillary Clinton has our best interests in mind.

For the sake of the future of drug policy in America, we’ve decided to critically examine her past statements on cannabis, as well as major votes for drug policy reform, in an effort to find out where she stands — at least officially — and what a Hillary Clinton administration might mean for cannabis in the United States.

College Years: Straight Republican in the Flower Power Era

Hillary Clinton attended Wellesley College from 1965 to 1969, exactly when American culture moved  from the clean-cut Beach Boys to the era of flower power, peace and love, Vietnam protests and “tune in, turn on, drop out.” As the nation underwent this massive upheaval, Clinton walked to the beat of her own drum. She may have worn some tie-dye and painted the occasional flower on her arm, but she was far from a hedonistic hippie.

During her freshman year she served as president of the Wellesley Young Republicans. Over the next four years her political views slowly changed, thanks in large part to the Civil Rights movement. She claimed to be “a mind conservative and a heart liberal” by the end of her senior year, but she still walked the path of the straight and narrow. She never touched cannabis, unlike her husband-to-be, and she claims she’s never had the desire or inclination to touch the stuff: “I didn’t do it when I was young, I’m not going to start now.”

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After Yale Law School and a short stint as a congressional staffer in Washington, D.C., Clinton spent most of the seventies and eighties working for the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Ark., an old-school corporate office that Clinton biographer Carl Bernstein described as “the ultimate establishment law firm.”

Hillary’s only connection to cannabis came through her husband, who famously admitted during the 1992 presidential campaign that “when I was in England” as a Rhodes Scholar, “I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale, and never tried it again.”

If Hillary has evolved on cannabis, it’s been a long, slow evolution with a particularly shallow arc. In 1996, she espoused her belief in the gateway theory in a quote from her book, It Takes a Village:

“Casual attitudes towards marijuana and minors’ access to cigarettes raise the likelihood that teenagers will make the sad progression to more serious drugs and earlier sexual activity.”

Her comments that same year about “the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators’” helped fuel the crime legislation and draconian drug laws that led to America’s incarceration crisis.

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As we’ve stepped further and further into the 21st century, however, the “cannabis as a gateway drug” theory has been disproven time and time and time again. And the war on drugs that Bill Clinton expanded is now seen as an abysmal failure.

Hillary in the Here and Now: Research, Schedule II, and Drug Courts

In 2007, during the Democratic Primary Debate at Howard University, Hillary Clinton debuted a new and improved attitude on the topic of nonviolent drug offenses:

“We need diversion, like drug courts. Non-violent offenders should not be serving hard time in our prisons. … Ultimately, we need an attorney general and a system of justice that truly does treat people equally, and that has not happened under this administration.”

That was the first glimpse of Clinton’s new take on drug policy, one that distinguishes between low-level, non-violent drug offenses and harder, more severe crimes.

In the same year, however, she was quoted as saying, “I don’t think we should decriminalize [marijuana]. But we ought to do research [into] what, if any benefits it has.” The politically safe “we need more research” line is one that Clinton would continue to repeat for nearly a decade.

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In 2012, her position on decriminalization came more sharply into focus when she was asked about ending the drug war by Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States.

“I respect those in the region who believe strongly that [legalization] would end the problem. I am not convinced of that, personally speaking,” said Clinton. “This is an ongoing debate. We are formulating our response to the votes in two of our states [Colorado and Washington] — what that means for the federal system, the federal laws, and law enforcement.”

Ultimately, the federal government chose not to interfere with states that passed adult-use cannabis laws. But would that have been the case under President Hillary Clinton? It’s hard to say.

Her most recent quotes on the campaign trail indicate that she would respect the autonomy of states’ rights, but wouldn’t necessarily do anything to move President Obama’s hands-off approach to legalization. She continues to be a proponent of research on the benefits and detriments of cannabis use, which is to say she supports science.

“What I do want is for us to support research into medical marijuana, because a lot more states have passed medical marijuana than have legalized marijuana, so we have got two different experiences or even experiments going on right now,” she said last November in South Carolina. “The problem with medical marijuana is there is a lot of anecdotal evidence about how well it works for certain conditions. Why? Because it is considered a Schedule I drug and you can’t even do research on it.”

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During that South Carolina stop, she finally took a half-step forward by adding, “I would like to move it from what is called Schedule I to Schedule II so that researchers at universities, National Institutes of Health can start researching what is the best way to use it, how much a dose does somebody need, how does it interact with other medications.”

In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel this past March, Kimmel confronted her head-on on about why she disagrees with decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level. Her response wasn’t quite the home run we hoped for, but it reaffirmed her support for states’ rights, cannabis rescheduling, and, of course, more research.

“Look, I think what the states are doing right now needs to be supported, and I absolutely support all the states that are moving toward medical marijuana, moving toward absolutely legalizing it for recreational use, but I want to see what the states learn from that experience, because there are still a lot of questions that we have to answer at a federal level. What I’d like to do is take it off of Schedule I and put it on a lower schedule so we can actually do some research about it.”

There you have it, my friends. Hillary Clinton’s stance on cannabis, as with some other hot-button issues, has evolved over time along with the changing attitudes in society.

The real question now is: Will Hillary put her money where her mouth is?

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