Clinton Team Prepped Marijuana Attacks on Sanders

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign prepared an extensive history of her chief Democratic primary rival’s positions on marijuana and drug policy issues over the years, several newly leaked documents show.

A document called, “Top Hits” outlines several lines of attack top Clinton aides thought might be effective against U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. In a section titled, “Sanders Past Extreme Positions,” under the headline “Legalizing All Drugs,” the former secretary of state’s research team dug up the Vermont senator’s pro-reform comments stretching back to 1971:

1971: Bernie Sanders Ran On A Platform Calling For The Legalization Of All Drugs.  “Freedom: ‘The government spies on its citizens, ignores civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution, and imposes penalties for crimes which have no victim.’ Sanders said he would seek an end to abortion laws, legalize all drugs, eliminate restrictions on birth control, and end all discrimination based on sex, race or anything else.”  [Bennington Banner, 12/11/71]

1972: Bernie Sanders Advocated The Legalization Of Marijuana. “In response to a number of students’ questions, Sanders advocated: […] –The legalization of marijuana.”  [Bennington Banner, 10/25/72]

1971:  Bernie Sanders Advocated The Legalization Of Heroin.  “About drugs, Sanders asked, ‘What does it say about this country when two kids in New York City die every day from an overdose of heroin? Everybody knows it’s a killer; the government tries to stop its use by making it illegal, and yet people keep taking it.  They’re committing suicide, and they know it.  What does that say about a young person’s will to live, about the value of human potential?  If heroin were legal, at least we’d know the dimensions of the problem, and be able to deal with it rationally.’”  [Bennington Banner, 12/11/71]

1986: Sanders Decried “Ineffective” Use Of State Funds To Prosecute Marijuana Users And Supported An Individual’s Right To Engage In Any Activity In The Privacy Of Home. “The Burlington mayor also said that he believes it is ‘an ineffective’ use of state funds to prosecute marijuana users and that in general he supports an individual’s right to engage in any activity in the privacy of his own home as long as it does not endanger… [CUT OFF].” [Rutland Daily Herald, 8/20/86]

A separate memo highlights a couple of Sanders votes against measures to ramp up the war on drugs:

Sanders Opposed Anti-Drug Trafficking Measure. On October 22, 1991, Bernie Sanders opposed a Rep. Clement, D-Tenn., amendment to establish drug-free zones around truck stops and highway rest areas. Adopted 371-48: R 158-0; D 213-47; I 0-1. A majority of House Democrats supported the proposal. [H R 3371, Vote #323, 10/22/91; CQ Floor Votes, 10/22/91]

Sanders Voted Against Legislation Freezing U.S. Assets Of Drug Traffickers And Deny Them, Their Families And Business Partners Visas. On November 2, 1999, Bernie Sanders opposed a Rep. Gilman, R-N.Y., motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill to freeze the U.S. assets of major narcotics trafficking organizations as well as any organizations that deal with drug traffickers. The measure would deny visas to any known traffickers, their families, and their business associates. Motion agreed to 385-26: R 203-8; D 182-17; I 0-1. A majority of House Democrats supported the proposal. [H R 3164, Vote #555, 11/2/99; CQ Floor Votes, 11/2/99]

Another document, posted online Thursday by WikiLeaks after a hack on Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account, hit Sanders for shifting his position on drug policy over the years. “Sanders said that legalizing drugs would ‘doom an entire generation of young people,’ but now advocates for removing marijuana from the federal government’s list of outlawed drugs,” the memo says.

Yet another lengthy memo titled “Sanders Book – Conflicts and Questionable” contains a number of tidbits on Sanders and drugs, including his acknowledgment of having used marijuana in the past:

That Clinton never launched any of the proposed attacks on Sanders’s largely pro-reform record probably reflects a recognition that support for legalization is rapidly increasing, particularly among Democratic primary voters. In fact, Clinton herself offered several reform proposals during the campaign, including a pledge to respect state cannabis policies and to reschedule the drug under federal law if elected.

The Sanders documents, attached to an email sent by Tony Carrk, the Clinton campaign’s research director, are just the latest revelations from the Podesta hack that contain nuggets of interest for marijuana policy watchers.

On a lighter note, an email from campaign manager Robby Mook expressed fascination at the fact that April 20 is used to commemorate “International Cannabis Day” and is also Adolf Hitler’s birthday, among other notable anniversaries.

Last week, was first to report on a message showing that Clinton spoke out against legalizing marijuana behind closed doors in a paid speech at Xerox.

Another message showed that staffers suggested attacking primary campaign rival Martin O’Malley, a former Maryland governor, for evolving too slowly on supporting marijuana decriminalization, even though Clinton herself hasn’t yet clearly and publicly endorsed specific policies that would remove cannabis’s criminal penalties.

A third email contained an attachment laying out the campaign’s proposed talking points to use in response to anticipated Democratic primary debate questions about marijuana policy. That document also revealed Clinton’s position on cannabis businesses’ access to banking services.

And another message contained a transcript of a meeting with Black Lives Matter activists during which Clinton appeared to endorse the “idea of” decriminalizing marijuana while saying she was unsure about the policy specifics.

Another batch of messages showed Podesta calling the U.S. Justice Department’s position on marijuana “nuts” and Clinton herself recounting a meeting with Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who offered to help the campaign shaped its marijuana policy messaging.

It has been estimated that about 40 percent of the hacked Podesta emails in WikiLeaks’s possession have been uploaded so far.

To see what else Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have said about cannabis law reform, check out’s comprehensive guide to the candidates.

Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.

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