Vivek Ramaswamy, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, says he voted against a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Ohio because he’s concerned the federal government could “weaponize” criminalization against people who are engaged in state-legal cannabis activities under the “fake” pretense that they’re protected from federal prosecution.
Marijuana policy didn’t come up during the GOP primary debate in Florida on Wednesday—but Ramaswamy found himself being pressed on the issue twice by one dedicated attendee, cannabis lobbyist Don Murphy.
During a commercial break, and again after the debate concluded, Murphy asked the candidate to explain why he voted against Issue 2, the Ohio marijuana legalization initiative that passed comfortably on Tuesday. Ramaswamy’s opposition to the measure, which he announced on Election Day, raised eyebrows given his support for ending federal cannabis prohibition.
The candidate first told Murphy that he was against how portions of the tax revenue from marijuana sales would be distributed to social equity programs in the state. But he then emphasized that his vote largely came down to a belief that states should not be preempting the federal government on marijuana policy, even if he also believes that federal law should change.
“My view is fix the federal laws,” he said in a video that Murphy shared exclusively with Marijuana Moment, adding that the patchwork of state marijuana programs while the plant remains federally prohibited creates “total confusion.”
“Am I in favor of revising federal laws? Yeah, I am,” he said. “You can still be prosecuted federally so I don’t want the federal government to be able to sa… ‘I don’t like you, so I’m going to prosecute you,’ even though most people think it’s legal at the state level.”
Murphy, a former Republican Maryland legislator who serves as director of government relations for the Marijuana Leadership Campaign, pointed out that the majority of cannabis prosecutions take place at the state level, with the federal government largely deprioritizing marijuana-related enforcement amid the state legalization movement. Ramaswamy responded that he knows people “who don’t want to take the risk” even though “their state says it’s legal.”
“It’s fake,” he said.
After the debate concluded, Murphy approached the candidate again at the stage and sought additional clarity on his vote against legalization in Ohio.
“I don’t like the conflict between state law and federal law, and so I don’t want people to be afraid that the government can still weaponize the law against them even if they’re engaging in a legal activity at the state level,” Ramaswamy said. “That’s a formula for dangerous overreach of federal power” and “selective prosecution.”
“Fix it at the federal level. We have federal drug laws that need to be fixed,” he said.
Ramaswamy previously explained his opposition to Issue 2 in an interview with NBC News on Tuesday afternoon.
“I think that there’s room for reasonable discussion at the federal level about what these policies should be, but I don’t think we’re doing a service to the rule of law in this country, where we have continual departures” between federal and state cannabis laws, he said.
“I am open to a rational discussion about what, for example, veterans who suffer from certain conditions of pain or PTSD might be have available to them. Let’s have that discussion at the federal level,” he told NBC. “That’s where the federal drug laws are. But right now, at the state level, I do not think it is healthy for our country to see further chaos and confusion and conflicts between state and federal law.”
Despite his comments, Ramaswamy remains the only major 2024 GOP presidential candidate to publicly support both legalizing marijuana at the federal level and taking steps to provide regulated therapeutic access to some psychedelics.
It’s not the first time the opportunistic entrepreneur has made apparently conflicting comments about his drug policy positions, seeming to walk bolder calls for reform and at times challenge reporting on what specific proposals he endorses. He’s also confused the reform community by calling on the federal government to expand the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
During a domestic policy speech in September, he detailed a proposal to fire about 75 percent of federal workers and shutter key agencies, but DEA would be exempt, while agents at the FBI would be transferred over to the drug agency.
On one hand, Ramaswamy has come out in public support of decriminalization of psychedelics and federal legalization of marijuana. On the other, he’s said he supports an extreme and militarized approach to the fentanyl overdose crisis, sending U.S. troops to the border to “annihilate” Mexican cartels in a “shock-and-awe” campaign.
“I will deploy the U.S. military to protect our *own* border instead of someone else’s. And I will annihilate the Mexican drug cartels: that’s how you end the fentanyl crisis which kills 50x the number of Americans each year vs. the number who died on 9/11,” he said on social media in April. “I refuse to be a passive buffoon who sits in the White House simply watching it happen: we’re going to finally solve this problem.”
Ramaswamy’s past statements suggest he could be an ally for the reform movement if elected president. But at the same time, while he’s commented on the bold plans, he’s also spent considerable time highlighting his proposals to use the military to combat fentanyl trafficking and to expand DEA—positions that would likely give pause to a drug war skeptic, as he’s characterized himself as being.
And given that he just admitted to opposing state-level marijuana reform as long as cannabis remains federally illegal, it’s unclear what drug policy issues the candidate would prioritize if elected to the White House.
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