Marijuana Debate

Carly Fiorina Tells CNN Debate: ‘I Buried a Child to Drug Addiction’

A moment after Jeb Bush jokingly admitted to smoking pot four decades ago (‘Sorry Mom’), Fiorina brought the drug debate back to Earth by recalling the death of her stepdaughter.

09.17.15 3:13 AM ET

Carly Fiorina delivered what was perhaps the most emotional moment of the GOP debate Wednesday night.

In the final half-hour of the marathon, Fiorina shared a personal story when the subject of marijuana use and legalization came up.

Sen. Rand Paul had made allusions to someone else on stage who had smoked marijuana like he had in the past, prompting moderator Jake Tapper to ask if there was someone specific the Kentucky Republican had in mind.

“He was talking about me,” Jeb Bush piped up.

“Yeah, I was talking about you,” Paul said. Bush was so eager to share his story that he leaped in, saying, “I wanted to make it easier for him and I just did.”

“So 40 years ago, I smoked marijuana and I admit it. I’m sure there are other people that might have done it,” the former Florida governor said, looking down the row at the 10 other candidates who shared the stage with him. “But don’t want to say it in front of the eyes of 20 million people. My mom’s not happy that I just did.”

Instead of taking the humorous, blasé approach of Bush, who later tweeted “Sorry Mom,” Fiorina talked about how hard addiction had hit her family.

“My husband, Frank, and I buried a child to drug addiction,” the usually stoic Fiorina said, holding back tears. “The pot today is very different than pot Jeb just admitted to smoking 40 years ago.”

Fiorina was referring to her stepdaughter Lori, who died in 2009, as Fiorina detailed in her book Rising to the Challenge.

In what was overall a staunchly reserved performance from Fiorina, due in large part to the bullying taunts of Donald Trump, it was an emotional moment.

In the book, the former H-P CEO described the moment she and her husband discovered that Lori had passed away.

“They asked us to sit down,” Fiorina wrote. “Frank collapsed in a chair. I sat on the carpet next to him, my arms wrapped around his knees. The police officers said our daughter was dead, three thousand miles away.”

She writes that Lori’s struggles with alcohol, prescription pills, and bulimia led to her untimely death at the age of 35.

“Lori’s potential was never fulfilled but death is not the only thing that crushes potential,” Fiorina wrote. “What I also know is that Americans are failing to achieve their potential today.”

At the time, Fiorina was a candidate for U.S. Senate.

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Fiorina has been outspoken in conversations about the way the United States treats addiction.

“Drug addiction shouldn’t be criminalized,” Fiorina said in May. “We need to treat it appropriately.”

“You have a lot of young people who are getting access to drugs and then they are getting arrested frequently—it’s just a bad, bad cycle," Fiorina said during discussions of the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore. ‘We need to create a circumstance in which people have a stake in their community—and they have a stake in their community because they believe their community offers them possibilities for a future.”