In short: Edwards has publicly stated that he thinks it would be “irresponsible” to end the Justice Department’s policy of arresting patients and caregivers who defy federal law. Edwards gets an “F” grade for refusing to pledge an end to these cruel and heartless raids on medical marijuana patients who are complying with state law.
What Edwards has done: Edwards has not taken any action to protect medical marijuana patients. He has neither cosponsored nor voted on legislation specifically addressing medical marijuana.*
What Edwards has said: Responding to a medical marijuana question at a town hall meeting in Durham on October 5, Edwards said, “What I have said I will do is set up a commission of objective experts in that area as soon as I’m sworn in as president, put them on a 90 day leash. In other words, come back with a report in 90 days and that I will follow their recommendation. If they say that this is necessary in order for these patients to get pain relief, I will do that.”
Responding to a question at his August 24 town hall meeting in Keene Central Square Park about his whether, as president, he would stop Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raids on seriously ill medical marijuana patients, Sen. Edwards reiterated his position that he would not end the raids. When five GSMM members attempted to enter the park with signs protesting Edwards’ position favoring the raids, several campaign staff members stopped them, telling the protesters they could not bring signs into the public park. Edwards’ campaign workers held signs in front of picketers once they entered, attempting to block view of the picketers’ signs from voters and journalists in the park. When public outrage over the tactic mounted, the Edwards campaign workers stopped blocking the placards. Terry Bennett of Keene, who is not a GSMM member, asked Edwards, “Are there going to be supporters with the John Edwards signs all along the campaign trail blocking access to other people with dissenting views?” and Sen. Edwards replied by falsely claiming, “I have seen some of these signs that said ‘John Edwards” … look at this, I saw one over there, I don’t see one now … ‘John Edwards hates cancer patients.'” When Bennett persisted with Edwards, saying “But not by blocking access,” Edwards conceded, “I agree with that, I agree with that. That’s fair, that’s fair.”
When he was asked about stopping Drug Enforcement Administration raids on the seriously ill at his campaign forum on August 21, 2003, Edwards responded, “I don’t think you can say to people who work for you ‘no, ignore violations of the law. I think that’s irresponsible for the president to do … it is what I believe is the right answer right now.”
Responding to questions from Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana on July 7, 2003 on C-SPAN, Edwards stated his intention to set up a commission to study the therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana. When asked if he would jail seriously ill patients while his commission studies medical marijuana, Edwards responded “what’d you just say, there are raids?” However, when asked a week later on July 15, 2003 whether he would continue the current policy of jailing sick patients, he responded “the government has a responsibility to enforce the laws,” echoing a comment he made six weeks earlier.
On May 29, 2003, Edwards was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle , as saying, “I wouldn’t change the [marijuana] law now, but I would set up a committee to see if pain relief is different with marijuana.” The article went on to state that Edwards showed “little sympathy for people arrested for behavior that’s legal under California law.” (You can read the full text of the article here.) “It’s the job of the Justice Department to enforce the law as it presently exists,” said Edwards.
In a February 2003 letter to a constituent, he stated, “I cannot endorse the medical use of marijuana while a significant number of medical professionals continue to oppose this practice.” However, he did promise, “I will continue to follow this issue closely, and I will actively consider the views of opponents and proponents of medical marijuana use.” (Download the letter here.)
What Edwards’ statements mean: In late August, Edwards’ campaign repeatedly attempted to block peaceful protesters with Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana (GSMM) from expressing their views during campaign events in public spaces. His campaign’s actions raise serious doubts about how an Edwards administration would treat civil liberties. Edwards has also consistently downplayed his own stance, or exaggerated others’ messages in attempts to mitigate the heartlessness of his medical marijuana position. Despite the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent ruling that the DEA raids are likely unconstitutional, Edwards has still refused to pledge an end to the raids.
*All current members of the House and Senate running for president have voted for District of Columbia appropriations bills that included anti-medical marijuana provisions, but there was never a separate vote on any such amendment.