POLITICS

Ted Cruz Voices Support For States' Right To Legalize Marijuana

02/26/2015 07:44 pm ET | Updated Feb 26, 2015

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) voiced support for the right of states to pursue their own marijuana policies on Thursday, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

At the annual gathering of conservative activists and Republican Party leaders, Fox News' Sean Hannity asked Cruz if he thought Colorado's legalization of marijuana was a good idea.

“Look, I actually think this is a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the laboratories of democracy,'" Cruz replied. "If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”

In the past, the Texas senator and potential White House candidate has said that he's open to debate on the subject of marijuana.

"I think we can have an intelligent conversation about drug policy and the degree to which it may or may not be achieving the ends we hope it would achieve," he told Reason last year.

But Cruz has also been a vocal critic of President Barack Obama for allowing recreational marijuana laws to go into effect in Colorado and Washington state without federal intervention.

"The Obama administration's approach to drug policy is to simply announce that across the country, it is going to stop enforcing certain drug laws," Cruz told Reason in that same interview. "Now, that may or may not be a good policy, but I would suggest that should concern anyone -- it should even concern libertarians who support that policy outcome -- because the idea that the president simply says criminal laws that are on the books, we're going to ignore [them]. That is a very dangerous precedent."

Earlier this month, Cruz opened up about his past marijuana use. A spokesperson for the senator said that Cruz had smoked marijuana as a teenager, a youthful experimentation that Cruz now characterizes as a "mistake."

GOP presidential hopefuls have struggled with marijuana legalization. Recently, some have said they support states' right to decide, even if they don't exactly support legalization. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who favors legalization of medical but not recreational marijuana, said that he's against the federal government telling states that "they can't" legalize. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has called legalization of recreational marijuana a "bad idea," but a spokesman said that Rubio believes, "of course," that states can make their own decisions about laws within their borders. And former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said last year that he doesn't support legalization personally, but that states should be able decide their own marijuana policies.

Despite the programs now in place in Colorado and Washington state -- as well as those going into effect in Alaska and Washington, D.C., and those that will soon go into effect in Oregon -- the sale, possession, production and distribution of marijuana all remain illegal under federal law. States' moves to legalize marijuana or soften penalties for possession have only been effective because of Justice Department guidance urging federal prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations.

Responding to Cruz's remarks, Don Murphy, federal policy analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that marijuana prohibition is a failed federal policy and that rolling it back should be on the agenda of "every Republican lawmaker."

“Marijuana policy reform is, at its heart, a conservative issue," said Murphy, who formerly served as a Republican state lawmaker in Maryland. "This is a matter of federalism, the 10th Amendment and state autonomy, which are core conservative priorities."

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