At a town hall hosted by CNN on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton's book tour felt more like a presidential campaign than ever as she fielded questions on a wide range of issues, including some that were far afield from her new memoir about her time as secretary of State.
One of the hottest issues in liberal politics these days has been reform to laws governing marijuana, but Clinton hasn't spoken publicly about the issue since her 2008 presidential campaign, when she flatly opposed legalization.
"I don't think we should decriminalize it," she said at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire in 2007. "But we ought to do research [into] what, if any, benefits it has."
On Tuesday, she was more amenable to change. On medical marijuana, Clinton called for more research into its benefits, without doubting they exist, but she stopped short of endorsing the widespread adoption of medical laws. "I think we need to be very clear about the benefits of marijuana use for medicinal purposes. I don't think we've done enough research yet," she said.
On recreational use, she was perhaps even more open to reform. "States are the laboratory of democracy," she said, noting that Colorado and Washington had legalized the drug via referenda in 2012. "I want to wait and see what the evidence is" from the two states, she said.
Her evolution on the issue mirrors that of the Democratic Party and the country as a whole, which has become much more favorable to drug reform since Clinton last ran for office or lived in the White House, said Tom Angell, the founder of the pro-reform group Marijuana Majority.
"Her openness to letting states proceed with implementing outright marijuana legalization shows just how far the politics of this issue have shifted since the 90's, when her husband's administration tried to punish doctors just for discussing the medical use of marijuana with their patients," Angell said in an email, referring to a case when the federal government threatened to revoke a physicians' ability to write prescriptions over medical marijuana.
Kevin Sabet, however, the co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization, downplayed Clinton's evolution. "I don't think we should read too much into these comments. If anything, she stopped short of embracing legalization, and I have a feeling that once she learns more about Colorado's negative experiences, and the profit-seeking motives of today's Big Marijuana industry, she'll disappoint a lot of legalization advocates," he said in an email.
She added that—unlike her husband, who infamously "didn't inhale"—she has never tried marijuana and has no plans to. "I didn't do it when I was young. I'm not going to start now," she said with a laugh as the moderator, CNN's Christiane Amanpour, asked if she wanted to try taking a puff.
Asked about gun control, Clinton echoed her comments at a behavioral health conference in May when she made a strong call for reining in guns. "We cannot let a minority of people—and that's what it is, a minority—hold a viewpoint that terrorizes a majority of people," she said.
On the deteriorating situation in Iraq, Clinton was asked about a potential deal with Iran to roll back advances made by Islamist insurgents in recent days. Clinton said it was too soon to say.
She also dodged a question on whether race is a factor in the heated opposition to Barack Obama. She agreed the attacks were often "virulent" but said it would be unfair to say they were race-based.
On voting rights, another hot topic on the left, Clinton called for automatic voter registration—she introduced a bill in the Senate to make that a reality—and said that she "deplore[s] the attempts of some to restrict the right to vote."
Asked about the obvious—a potential presidential run—Clinton acknowledged that it's as much a personal decision for her as a political one. "I will make this decision based on how I feel about it, and what I believe I can do," she said.
The crowd of about 190 people at CNN's town hall, including students and representatives of local nonprofits, was friendly and supportive, doling out generous applause to most of Clinton's answers.
This story has been updated to include comment from Angell and Sabet.
This article appears in the June 18, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.