In short: Lieberman cosponsored a 1998 U.S. Senate resolution condemning state efforts to legalize medical use of marijuana. Lieberman gets an “F” grade for refusing to pledge an end to the Bush administration’s cruel and heartless raids on medical marijuana patients.
What Lieberman has done: In 1998, Lieberman cosponsored S.J.Res. 56, opposing efforts to legalize marijuana or other Schedule I drugs for medical use. The resolution condemned “efforts to circumvent” the Food and Drug Administration’s drug-approval process via state medical marijuana laws, and it contained language suggesting that medical marijuana laws add to “ambiguous cultural messages about marijuana use [that] are contributing to a growing acceptance of marijuana use among children and teenagers.” Lieberman is the only senator now running for president who cosponsored this resolution, which never received a floor vote. He has not voted on other legislation specifically addressing medical marijuana.*
What Lieberman has said: At a campaign stop in Manchester on December 28, GSMM’s Linda Macia and Len Epstein asked Lieberman if, as president, he would stop the DEA’s raids on medical marijuana patients who are acting in compliance with state law. Lieberman responded, “From a federal point of view … it’s the wrong allocation of our resources.”
Encountering a question from GSMM’s Linda Macia during a filming session for his campaign’s infomercial on December 11, Lieberman said, “You know what? I’m glad you’re here ’cause you’ve asked me that three or four times and I told you I was going to look at the evidence and give you an answer. I didn’t know you were going to be here today, but I want to give you the answer — the conclusion I’ve come to. I see that the Institute of Medicine, which is an independent group, has said, and most doctors say that they don’t recommend the use of marijuana as the preferred treatment for pain associated with serious illness. They recommend a drug called, a prescription drug called Marinol. But the Institute of Medicine and the American Medical Association have said that there are cases — there are people who can’t get the relief that they need from the prescription drugs that are on the market. And in that case, they recommend the medical use of marijuana under a doctor’s supervision. And to me, that seems like the humane and sensible approach. We’re not talking about legalizing marijuana. I’m against that. We’re talking about making limited use under a doctor’s care of marijuana for people who can’t find relief from pain in any other accepted way. I’m glad I had the chance to answer that question.”
When Macia asked Lieberman a follow up question about whether he would stop the DEA’s raids on medical marijuana patients, he said, “I’ve checked this and found that they’re not numerous. There’s been something like thirteen in the last couple of years. There were a couple under President Clinton. They’ve gone up in number under President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft. I give you this answer: You’ve got to see what the particular case is. You always want to enforce the law, obviously. But, you know, in the priorities of what I would ask my drug enforcement agency to do, cracking down on sick people using marijuana for medical purposes under the supervision of a doctor — No. That would not be a priority.”
Questioned by GSMM’s campaign coordinator Aaron Houston during his appearance on a live broadcast of C-SPAN on December 2, Lieberman replied, “I asked my staff to check into the … accusations that Aaron and others have made that our Justice Department has been spending too much time carrying out raids on cancer patients, AIDS patients, doctors who are using marijuana as a pain killer. I don’t know that — and I’m waiting for an answer to that. Look, in the range of responsibilities that law enforcement has in America, I would say that carrying out raids on sick people is not one of the higher priorities and will not be in my administration. But in fairness, uh, I want to get a full report before I make any accusations or conclusions about what even this Justice Department, uh and this administration is doing.”
During his October 28 appearance on New Hampshire Public Radio’s program The Exchange, Lieberman responded to a GSMM question, saying, “I was at a forum at St. Anselm College and somebody asked me that last night and I frankly haven’t given it the thought I want to give it, and I’m going to do that real quickly. My recollection is that as a Senator, influenced to a great degree by people like Barry McCaffrey, and some studies that were done, I thought by the Institute of Medicine, that questioned whether marijuana was necessary as a pain reducer, which I gather is what most people are asking about here, whether it wouldn’t be better for the health of people and for society if they used other pain killers. But I’ve now had a bunch of people here in New Hampshire ask me this question and I want to go back and look at it again. One of the gentlemen last night gave me a fact sheet that I’m going to review. So I promise you, keep asking, and as soon as I reach a judgment — which, I’m not going to delay it a long time — I’ll answer that question.”
Questioned about whether he would stop arresting patients as president, at a campaign stop on September 14, Lieberman said, “I would never want, in this setting, to make a blanket statement about what prosecutors might do. I will say more generally that you’d always hope that prosecutors would focus in enforcing the law on the areas that are of most threat to public safety.” Lieberman also mentioned his support for a 1998 Senate Joint Resolution condemning state efforts to remove or reduce criminal penalties for seriously ill people using medical marijuana, which he cosponsored. Lieberman said he did not support state efforts to reduce penalties for medical marijuana patients, “because there was a report from the Institute of Medicine that … said that the case was not made that medical use of marijuana was necessary or even appropriate,” Lieberman said.
At a campaign stop in Manchester on August 31, GSMM asked Lieberman if, as president, he would continue the raids on seriously ill medical marijuana patients. Lieberman responded, “I’m going to have to take a pass and get back to you…I didn’t know about that…make sure you give that lady behind you your information and I’ll give you an answer.” Lieberman made his first public medical marijuana statement from the presidential campaign trail on July 6, 2003, telling GSMM he would “probably” sign legislation to allow seriously ill people to use medical marijuana, with their doctors’ approval. Lieberman went on to say, “I’m sympathetic.” Expressing a very different view in a 1999 letter to a constituent, Sen. Lieberman wrote, “State ballot initiatives legalizing marijuana for medicinal use circumvent the established Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drug approval process….” He also indicated he was sorry the resolution described above never received a floor vote. (Download the letter here.)
What Lieberman’s statements mean: On the campaign trail, Lieberman has repeatedly refused to pledge an end to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA’s) raids on seriously ill medical marijuana patients in states that have decided to protect patients and their caregivers. Despite the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent ruling that the DEA raids are likely unconstitutional, Lieberman 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.