When pressed at an annual conference for conservative activists this week about their stances on marijuana legalization, several members of the Republican Party said that although they personally oppose legalizing the drug, they support states' rights to do so.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Fox News' Sean Hannity asked former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) Friday if Colorado's legalization of marijuana was a good idea.
"I thought it was a bad idea," Bush said, "but states ought to have that right to do it. I would have voted 'no' if I was in Colorado."
These comments are similar to those he made last November when he acknowledged that states should "have a right" to decide on their own marijuana laws while simultaneously publicly opposing an amendment to legalize medical marijuana in Florida -- a measure that fell just short of the 60 percent support needed to pass.
Throughout his political career, Bush has not embraced marijuana. He spent much of his time as Florida governor championing jail instead of treatment for nonviolent drug offenders, and pushed for mandatory prison sentences for drug offenders -- with the exception of his daughter, Noelle, who struggled with crack cocaine use while Bush was in office.
In January, Bush, who many consider to be a top GOP contender for the White House, revealed that he smoked marijuana in high school -- an admission that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) found to be hypocritical, given Bush's vocal opposition to marijuana laws in his state.
“You would think he’d have a little more understanding then,” Paul, who may be a rival to Bush in the Republican primary, told The Hill. “He was even opposed to medical marijuana. This is a guy who now admits he smoked marijuana but he wants to put people in jail who do."
GOP presidential hopefuls have struggled with the issue of marijuana legalization, and Hannity questioned many top conservatives about it at CPAC. When asked about the issue on Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) voiced support for the right of states to determine their own marijuana policies. 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.
Earlier Friday, when Hannity asked Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) a similar question on marijuana legalization, the senator said flatly that he is "against the legalization of marijuana." However, earlier this year a spokesman for Rubio said that the senator "of course" believes that states can make their own decisions about laws within their borders.
Paul, who favors legalization of medical but not recreational marijuana, told Hannity Friday that it's "yet to be determined" if Colorado's marijuana legalization program is a good idea. "Freedom, for the most part, is a good thing," he added, noting that he also considers states' rights to be "a good thing."
Although the sale, possession, production and distribution of marijuana all remain illegal under federal law, some states have made moves to regulate marijuana use. Colorado and Washington state have regulatory frameworks in place, and similar frameworks are being developed for Alaska and Oregon. This week, Washington, D.C., legalized limited recreational marijuana use, possession and cultivation. 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 Bush's remarks, Tom Angell, chairman of drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority, said that support for states' rights on marijuana policy is becoming the "default position" among politicians in both parties.
“That’s because polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans supports local control and responsibility when it comes to marijuana policy," Angell said. "When voters lead, politicians have to follow or get left behind."