Pubdate: Tue, 07 Jul 2015
Source: Oneida Daily Dispatch (NY)
Copyright: 2015 The Associated Press
Author: Kristen Wyatt, The Associated Press


DENVER (AP) - Presidential candidates are talking about marijuana in 
ways unimaginable not long ago.

White House hopefuls in both parties are taking donations from people 
in the new marijuana industry, which is investing heavily in 
political activism as a route to expanded legalization and landed its 
first major candidate, Rand Paul, at a trade show last month.

Several Republicans, like Democrats, are saying they won't interfere 
with states that are legalizing a drug still forbidden under federal 
law. And at conservative policy gatherings, Republicans are 
discussing whether drug sentences should be eased.

A quarter century after Bill Clinton confessed he tried marijuana but 
insisted "I didn't inhale," the taboo against marijuana is shrinking 
at the highest level of politics, just as it appears to be with the public.

"When I was growing up, it was political suicide for a candidate to 
talk about pot being legal," said Tim Cullen, owner of Colorado 
Harvest Co., a chain of medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries.

Cullen attended a Hillary Rodham Clinton fundraiser in New Mexico 
last month and talked to the Democratic candidate about her position 
on legalizing pot.

"She's not outwardly hostile to the idea, which is a big step 
forward," Cullen said. "She's willing to openly talk about it at least."

A slim majority of Americans, 53 percent, said in a Pew Research 
Center survey in March that the drug should be legal. As recently as 
2006, less than a third supported marijuana legalization in another 
measure of public opinion, the General Social Survey.

Politicians are shifting, but slowly.

Republican candidates Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry are among 
those who say states should decide marijuana laws, even as they brand 
legalization a bad idea. In June, Paul became the first major-party 
presidential candidate to hold a fundraiser with the new marijuana 
industry, courting about 40 donors in Denver.

But the Kentucky senator used a private back door, and aides erected 
a screen so photographers couldn't see the candidate standing by a 
green Cannabis Business Summit sign. Paul didn't talk about pot at a 
public meet-and-greet afterward.

A few days earlier in the same building, six other GOP presidential 
contenders talked to about 4,000 people at a gathering of Western 
conservatives. There, Perry defended the right of states to change 
marijuana laws, even if they "foul it up."

"Colorado comes to mind," the former Texas governor said, to laughs 
and applause. "I defend the right of Colorado to be wrong on that issue."

Altogether, 23 states and the District of Columbia are flouting 
federal law by allowing marijuana use for medical or recreational purposes.

Not all candidates say leave it to the states. New Jersey Gov. Chris 
Christie and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum say they would 
fight to roll back marijuana legalization efforts in states such as Colorado.

Democrats are generally less critical of states legalizing pot, but 
they're treading carefully, too.

Clinton said last year that more research needed to be done on 
marijuana's medical value, but "there should be availability under 
appropriate circumstances." She didn't elaborate what those 
circumstances should be.

As for her main Democratic rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders sounds 
lukewarm about legalization, despite his counterculture roots and 
liberal social views. He told Yahoo News that pot should be 
decriminalized but hewas not ready to go beyond that. He said he 
smoked pot twice in the old days and "coughed a lot."

Bush and Cruz have also acknowledged using marijuana in their youth, 
as has President Barack Obama.

Marijuana entrepreneurs say even tepid support for legalization is a 
step forward, and they're opening their wallets in hopes of seeing more change.

The largest marijuana lobbying group, Marijuana Policy Project, plans 
to donate tens of thousands to 2016 presidential candidates. 
Executive Director Rob Kampia was among those at the Denver pot fundraiser.

"We wouldn't have heard a presidential candidate talking that way 
four years ago," Kampia said. Attendees said Paul talked about 
changing federal drug-sentencing laws but stopped short of calling 
for nationwide legalization.

It's unclear how much money the marijuana industry will spend on the 
presidential race. Many pot-business owners don't list their 
businesses on campaignfinance disclosure forms, given the drug's 
federal illegality. And some marijuana activists are likely to spend 
not on the presidential contest but on campaigns in the six to 10 
states likely to have some sort of marijuana policy on ballots next year.

Still, the presidential race appears certain to include more talk of 
marijuana policy than before.

"There are a lot of loose bricks in the walls of resistance to 
changing drug laws in America," said William Martin, who studies drug 
policy at Rice University. "It's no longer a silly question, 
legalizing marijuana."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom