But as the discussion around opioid addiction evolves, most GOP presidential candidates have been hesitant to support wider reform of drug laws. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, while voicing support for expanding drug courts nationwide, opposed a Florida medical marijuana proposal in 2014 that was narrowly defeated. Like him, most other GOP contenders are opposed to marijuana but say legalization decisions should be left to the states. And although Bush recently embraced the idea of lowering mandatory minimums, as governor, he signed legislation that increased minimums for juvenile offenders in Florida. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has criticized the White House’s new sentencing guidelines, which will release about 6,000 nonviolent drug offenders. He has vowed that, if elected president, he will enforce existing federal marijuana laws.
The Democratic presidential candidates, meanwhile, seem to have embraced the notion that supporting progressive drug policy is no longer a political liability. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, for example, has called on the campaign trail for the removal of marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act and for allowing states to regulate marijuana without federal interference. And he has backed the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would reduce most mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses.
Clinton was silent on drug law reform during her eight-year tenure as a senator from New York. Although she recently called for an end to the era of mass incarceration, her stance has shifted throughout her career. As first lady, she campaigned for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, according to the Marshall Project, a nonprofit that covers the U.S. criminal justice system. The measure, which provided billion of dollars for prison construction and established mandatory life sentences for third felony convictions, is credited with extending the era of mass incarceration.