The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: Pot Under the Last 5 Presidents

With Trump and Sessions, we’re entering an unsure period of marijuana legalization in the United States. Today, we’re not looking at their economic or social records, but at one thing in particular: how have the last five presidents handled marijuana policy?

Ronald Reagan

The good: Um… Hm… Give me a second…

The bad: His comments about weed in 1980: “Leading medical researchers are coming to the conclusion that marijuana, pot, grass, whatever you want to call it, is probably the most dangerous drug in the United States, and we haven’t begun to find out all of the ill effects, but they are permanent ill effects.”

The ugly: Where to start? Under Reagan, we saw the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) created, the CIA activated in the domestic drug war and the strengthening of the multi-decade War on Drugs.

George H.W. Bush


The Good: While we hesitate to call this good, H.W. Bush strongly supported the rights of the states to make their own decisions on marijuana legalization, regardless of whether he showed that in practice or not.  

The Bad: That being said, Bush also strongly supported the federal law banning marijuana.

The Ugly: September 5, 1989. Bush gave the War on Drugs some of its strongest ammunition that day, when he held up a bag of crack cocaine and said it was purchased in front of the White House. This led to hugely punitive drug policies, which while mainly focused on crack, would hit the unfortunate pot bystanders as well.

Bill Clinton

The Good: Clinton campaigned heavily on using treatment over incarceration and fully admitted that he kinda-sorta-maybe smoked a blunt in London.

The Bad: Treatment over incarceration makes less money, though, so within a few months Clinton reverted to the Republican drug strategies of his predecessors.

The Ugly: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The bill created much tougher incarceration rates, limited the ability for parole and instituted a ‘three-strike’ policy.

George W. Bush

The Good: Like father, like son.  

The Bad: According to the Drug Policy Alliance, “The era of George W. Bush witnessed the rapid escalation of the militarization of domestic drug law enforcement. By the end of Bush’s term, there were about 40,000 paramilitary-style SWAT raids on Americans every year—mostly for nonviolent drug law offenses, often misdemeanors.”

The Ugly: Bush campaigned on saying medical marijuana should be left up to the states, a position he (unsurprisingly) pivoted on after being elected. In addition, the administration allowed multiple raids on patients and dispensaries in legal states.

Barack Obama


The Good: Obama has been, by far, the most weed friendly president we’ve ever had. He’s said in multiple interviews that he thinks marijuana should be taxed the same as cigarettes and alcohol. He granted clemency to more nonviolent drug offenders than any president in history. And hey, look how many states have legal weed now! 

The Bad: Obama has long held the policy that, as president, he can’t just change federal drug policy—but he’s insinuated that if Congress passed a bill, he would sign it (missed that opportunity).

 The Ugly: During the Obama administration, the DEA made CBD oil illegal, which patients in many states use to control seizures.

1 comment
  1. The quote atributed to George H.W. Bush “If the people were to ever find out what we have done, we would be chased down the streets and lynched.” has been refuted by snopes.
    I’m no defender of Bush Sr., he was a very aggressive drug war zealot.

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