During a debate with independent rival Greg Orman, Roberts was asked for his position on marijuana legalization.
“That's not a federal issue," Roberts said. "That's a state issue. If you want to get a Rocky Mountain high, go west. That should be for the Kansas legislature and the governor to decide, not federally.”
Orman also stopped short of fully endorsing legalization, but did offer criticism of the federal war on drugs.
"You know, we've had a federal policy in this country since the Nixon administration that doesn't seem to be working, he said. "We've spent over $1 trillion on it. With that said, as the senator has mentioned, we do have states that have started to work with different policies as it relates to legalization. I think it would be prudent for us to take a step back and watch what happens in those states before we determine how we want to change federal policy."
"When a conservative Republican senator from Kansas tells the feds to let states legalize marijuana in the middle of a tight race for reelection, it's pretty clear that the days when politicians thought they needed to be as 'tough' on drugs as possible in order to get elected are over," Marijuana Majority chairman Tom Angell said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "But Sen. Roberts needs to do more than just talk about change. At the very least he should team up with Sens. Cory Booker & Rand Paul on their effort to stop federal interference with state medical marijuana laws."
In June, Booker (D-N.J.) and Paul (R-Ky.) introduced an amendment to block the Justice Department from spending money against state medical marijuana laws. The House passed similar legislation in May.
While marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, Colorado and Washington have implemented laws allowing recreational use of the substance and several other states are weighing similar programs. Recent polls show that a growing majority of Americans support legalization. Medical marijuana, meanwhile, is currently legal in 22 states plus the District of Columbia.
Roberts has previously said that medical cannabis should not be considered a medical expense when calculating food stamp benefits. In 2012, he introduced legislation that would make it illegal to deduct medical marijuana costs when determining Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
“Federal nutrition assistance, provided by American taxpayers, should not be boosted due to one’s use of medical marijuana," Roberts said in a 2012 statement. "Marijuana is illegal to use or distribute in the United States and certainly has no place in the calculation of benefits for those in need.”