Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is making a bid for the White House as a 2024 Democratic presidential candidate. And while his drug policy record is thin, he has come out in support of bold marijuana and psychedelics reforms since entering the race.
The son of former Attorney General Robert Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy has pledged to legalize cannabis and psychedelics if elected, and he’s taken a swipe at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a GOP presidential candidate, for opposing marijuana decriminalization.
While his candidacy has been met with skepticism, especially in light of his questioning of vaccine efficacy and apparent appeal with certain conservative factions of the electorate, he has put drug policy reform in the spotlight a number of times since announcing that he was challenging incumbent President Joe Biden.
Kennedy’s position on the issue also puts him more closely in line with another Democratic presidential candidate, Marianne Williamson, who also supports cannabis and psychedelics reform.
Here’s where Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. stands on marijuana:
Legislation And Policy Actions
Kennedy has worked as an environmental attorney and writer, but he has not held elected office before, so he does not have a legislative record on drug policy issues.
On The Campaign Trail
Since joining the race in April 2023, Kennedy has embraced comprehensive marijuana and psychedelics reform.
After DeSantis said he would not move to decriminalize cannabis if he won the White House, drawing criticism from both sides, Kennedy shared a Marijuana Moment article about DeSantis’s comments and contrasted them with his own agenda.
DeSantis’ opposition to marijuana decriminalization is wrong. I will decriminalize cannabis at the federal level. Current situation with contradictory state + federal laws is absurd. States should be able to decide without federal interference. #Kennedy24https://t.co/GtFZRJwCAa
— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@RobertKennedyJr) June 25, 2023
“I will decriminalize cannabis at the federal level,” he said in June 2023. “Current situation with contradictory state + federal laws is absurd. States should be able to decide without federal interference.”
That month, he also discussed his own 40 years of sobriety during an interview on the podcast “Club Random with Bill Maher,” as he declined Maher’s offer to smoke with him on the show. He didn’t appear to mind the host’s indulgence over the course of the chat, however.
Days later, Kennedy said he would legalize marijuana and psychedelics if elected to the White House—and he’d tax both substances, using revenue to create “healing centers” where people recovering from drug addiction could learn organic farming as a therapeutic tool. He also voiced support for freeing up banking services for the cannabis industry.
During the town hall event with NewsNation, the candidate talked about his own struggles with addiction during his youth and the lessons that he’s taken away from his decades in recovery. While he said he’s generally not one to recommend a drug to treat substance misuse, he’s seen in his own family how psychedelics can facilitate the type of psychological healing needed for long-term recovery.
“I would legalize psychedelic drugs—some form of legalization,” he said, adding that he doesn’t necessarily envision a commercial market where anyone could visit a shop to buy substances like psilocybin, LSD and MDMA, but that there should be regulated access.
“I’m going to decriminalize marijuana on a federal basis, allow the states to regulate it, continue to tax it federally and use those taxes to fund the recovery programs,” he said. “And I would do the same thing for psychedelic drugs, which I do not think should be criminalized.”
The cannabis and psychedelic tax-funded recovery program that he has in mind is inspired by an Italian treatment center called San Patrignano, which takes people struggling with addiction, or those who are at-risk, and provides support through an agriculturally centered approach. Residents become involved in activities such as gardening, forestry and animal care.
Addiction has afflicted so many American families, mine included. I’ve taken hundreds of people through recovery, and I know what works. As President, I’m going to build healing camps across this country, places where recovering addicts can grow and eat organic food, heal… pic.twitter.com/KNdK54HY8I
— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@RobertKennedyJr) June 30, 2023
“That’s what we need to build here,” he said. “What I would do as president is I would decriminalize marijuana. I will make safe banking laws for people who are selling it, I will tax it federally and I will use that money to build these healing centers in rural areas—depressed rural areas—all over the country, where kids can grow organic food and eat well and heal themselves spiritually, physically and emotionally.”
The note about “safe banking laws” seems to be a reference to the bipartisan Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to protect financial institutions that work with state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. However, the proposal to impose a federal tax on marijuana sales would go much further than that incremental reform.
He also criticized much of the existing approach to drug treatment in the U.S.
“I have a very good idea of what works and a vision for what we need to do in this country—and we need to make addiction treatment easy, simple, cheap,” Kennedy said. “A lot of the [drug treatment] industry has devolved, because of a variety of factors, into almost a predatory industry.”
With respect to psychedelics, the candidate said that he’s reviewed studies on the substances, and “there’s so many people being helped in different ways by them, and we have to make it easier—maybe to prescribe them or to give them through therapeutically.”
“I don’t know about just buying them in stores. I have to look at all that,” he said. “But in one way or another, we need to make it easy for people to use them in ways that could benefit our children and could benefit everybody. I’ve seen it in my own family, the benefits of it.”
He said that he’s “seen miraculous recoveries from psychedelic drugs from PTSD from veterans who have who have used it, from people who have suffered severe depression, OCD and many, many other injuries.”
“I’m not saying blanket legalization—but we need to make it easy for psychiatrists and therapists who are trained to be able to use this on their patients [as] an experiment and see if we get good results,” Kennedy said.
He was also asked about the stigmatizing way that some have described the current president’s son’s struggles with substance misuse and said simply that addiction “is a tragedy and it’s cunning, it’s incomprehensible, it’s baffling and it’s really difficult to deal with. I wish him and his family the best.”
In May, he blamed U.S. policies, including the war on drugs, for exacerbating problems with immigration and promised to “change” federal laws, accordingly.
“Why are so many people so desperate in the first place to leave their homes and countries behind for an uncertain future?” he said in a Twitter post. “The answer is uncomfortable. In large part, it is U.S. policies that create desperate conditions south of the border. The War on Drugs is one. U.S.-funded dictators, juntas, paramilitaries, and death squads.”
The most crucial aspect of the immigration crisis is rarely discussed: Why are so many people so desperate in the first place to leave their homes and countries behind for an uncertain future? The answer is uncomfortable. In large part, it is U.S. policies that create desperate…
— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@RobertKennedyJr) May 3, 2023
In a separate interview with Reason the same month, he reiterated that he would “decriminalize marijuana on a federal basis and allow the states to regulate it.”
“I would have a federal tax on it,” he said, “and I would apply that tax to building rehabilitation centers around the country in providing people drug rehabilitation.”
In July 2023, he discussed his drug policy platform in an interview with Fox News, defending his position that the country should end the war on drugs and emphasizing the need to treat addiction as a public health matter, not a criminal justice issue.
“We need to focus on mental health. We need to start healing our country,” he said. “And that’s going to be a priority to me—not putting people in jail for drugs.”
Kennedy’s campaign site says that he “will end the failed War on Drugs and grant amnesty to nonviolent drug offenders.”
“When I am President, I will secure the border which will end the cartel’s drug trafficking economy,” he said in August 2023. “I will build wide doors for those who wish to enter legally so the U.S. can continue to be a beacon to the world where diversity and culture make us great.”
When I am President, I will secure the border which will end the cartel’s drug trafficking economy. I will build wide doors for those who wish to enter legally so the U.S. can continue to be a beacon to the world where diversity and culture make us great. #Kennedy24 pic.twitter.com/71FshLt7NK
— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@RobertKennedyJr) August 20, 2023
Kennedy was critical of the first 2024 GOP presidential debate in August 2023, arguing that candidates fell back on “recycled Reagan-era cliches” such as being “tough” on drugs.
Instead, they recycled Reagan-era cliches about cutting spending, being “tough” on drugs, crime, China, etc., and ending abortion.
— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@RobertKennedyJr) August 24, 2023
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
Prior to entering the presidential race, Kennedy didn’t appear to publicly comment on marijuana and psychedelics issues. But he has dozens of social media posts criticizing the pharmaceutical industry, including many conspiratorial takes on vaccines.
Fauci gets COVID again after taking Pfizer’s treatment — the drug that cost taxpayers $10.5 Billionhttps://t.co/a20tsBMVRW
— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@RobertKennedyJr) July 1, 2022
But the cannabis platform he’s since built would likely earn the support of his late father, former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who challenged punitive marijuana criminalization policies and argued that marijuana is safer than cigarettes more than 50 years ago.
Personal Experience With Marijuana
In the 1980s, Kennedy was arrested over cannabis possession and struggled with an addiction to heroin. He’s been open about being in active recovery for substance misuse for the past several decades, including during his interview with Maher where he declined to smoke a joint with the host.
Marijuana Under A Kennedy Presidency
Kennedy’s plan for drug policy reform stands out as one of the most ambitious to be proposed from the current presidential candidates in the 2024 field. Not only has he backed legalization and strongly condemned the drug war, but he’s fashioned a detailed plan for how to use tax revenue from legal cannabis and psychedelics sales.
While his views on issues like vaccines have alienated him from certain Democratic voters, his drug policy reform agenda, at least when it comes to marijuana, is one that largely aligns with that of the party’s primary electorate.
Image element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.