The upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election is fast approaching and cannabis legalization is looking like it’s getting more airtime than ever before.
With the current climate of federal and state laws clashing when it comes to cannabis law, the next occupant of The Oval Office could have a significant impact on the shape and success of the legal cannabis industry in the United States.
With one of the democratic front-runners Joe Biden recently hitting the headlines with his antiquated ‘gateway drug’ comment we thought it would be good to look at each candidate’s position on cannabis to gain some insight into what it could possibly look like within the next four year?
Current President – Republican candidate
Trump’s stance on cannabis legalization is somewhat unclear, he has expressed support for medical cannabis and stated that, as president, he would allow states to decide whether to legalize cannabis without the interference from the federal government.
While his position on recreational cannabis has remained the same, President Trump completely reversed his own stance on the issue after he was elected. Then Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked the Cole Memo, an Obama-era policy that disallowed the federal government to interfere with the states that have legalized cannabis.
The White House press secretary Sean Spicer also told reporters that under President Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions, the U.S. Department of Justice would do more to enforce federal cannabis laws on states that had legalized recreational cannabis. He also further defined the President’s position in viewing medicinal and recreational cannabis laws as requiring different considerations.
However, Trump recently stated that if re-elected, he would ‘probably’ support a bi-partisan bill, named the STATES act, that would allow US states to make their own laws on cannabis without federal interference.
While even his very recent history on the topic of cannabis has shown he can change directions very quickly, the Republican co-sponsor of the bill, Cory Gardner, was reported to have introduced the bill only after securing a promise from Trump that he would support it.
Earlier in the year, when asked about the topic of legalization, Trump stated in classically vague Trumpian fashion that “We’re going to see what’s going on. It’s a very big subject and right now we are allowing states to make that decision,” he said. “A lot of states are making that decision, but we’re allowing states to make that decision.”
So if Trump were re-elected, it seems he has no specific policy positions aimed at making things better for the cannabis industry but things may still improve by the virtue of him not standing in the way of the efforts of others.
Democratic candidate – leading most national polls
Former vice president, Joe Biden, also referred to as “one of the most aggressive drug warriors in Congress” by Mason Tvert (spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project) is wholly anti-cannabis and still under the age-old impression that the plant is a “gateway drug” to other illicit substances.
Not only is Biden currently against the legalization of cannabis, but has been since 1974 where he had an active role in The War on Drugs. Biden assisted in the establishment of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 1989 which pushed anti-drug (and specifically anti-cannabis) ad campaigns leading to decades of misinformation about cannabis.
Unfortunately age has not made Biden any wiser as he continues to advocate against the plant’s legalization. To be fair, he has softened a little over the years, stating that “the idea of focusing significant resources on interdicting or convicting people for smoking marijuana is a waste of resources.”
When it comes to his outlook on medical cannabis, it doesn’t get much better. Although Biden supported ending raids on medical cannabis users back in 2007, he still believed that “there’s got to be a better answer than marijuana… There’s got to be a better way for a humane society to figure out how to deal with that problem.” He has since stated that he does support medical cannabis. Whether this is a strategic move or he had a change of heart is unclear.
In 1989, Biden even criticized then President George H.W. Bush’s anti-drug plan, stating that it was not “tough enough, bold enough, or imaginative enough to meet the crisis at hand”. This poses the question, would the war on drugs take an even stricter turn if Biden were elected as president?
Joe Biden recently spoke at a town hall in Las Vegas where he stated that he will not legalize cannabis because “the truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug.” He went on to say “It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”
There is currently nothing regarding Biden’s drug policy views on his campaign website so it is hard to know where Biden specifically stands, but from the remarks he has made in public, it doesn’t look promising for cannabis legalization. One can only hope his views have drastically changed since 1989.
Democratic candidate – second in most national polls
Bernie recently released one of the most comprehensive and ambitious cannabis legalization plans out of all candidates running for presidency.
On October 25 at 4:20, Bernie tweeted ‘Too many lives were ruined due to the disastrous criminalization of marijuana. Today I am releasing my plan to: Legalize marijuana with executive action, expunge past marijuana convictions, invest in communities most affected by the War on Drugs.’
The plan states that if Bernie gains presidency, he would legalize cannabis in the first 100 days in office with executive action.
The plan is split into two major sections, the first is ‘Ending The War On Marijuana And Undoing Its Damage’ and the second is to ‘Ensure Legalized Marijuana Does Not Turn Into the Big Tobacco’
Ending The War On Marijuana And Undoing Its Damage
The plan acknowledges the discriminatory core of cannabis prohibition and promises that revenue from the legal cannabis industry will be reinvested in the minority communities that were hit hardest by the War on Drugs.
A $20 billion grant program will be created within the Minority Business Development Agency to provide entrepreneurs of colour who are discriminated against when trying to get loans.
Those who were formerly incarcerated will be provided with training and resources needed to start their own businesses and will be guaranteed jobs and free job training at trade schools that are related to cannabis businesses.
Barriers to public benefits will be eliminated. This can include licenses and contracts based on prior records, drug testing requirements and the removal from public housing due to cannabis use.
It also understands that individuals continue to serve unjust sentences for cannabis use under previous laws. The plan states that all previous cannabis convictions at the federal and state level would be reviewed for expungement and/or resentencing based on the California model.
Federal funding will be provided to states and cities to partner with organizations that can help develop and operate the expungement determination process.
Ensure Legalized Marijuana Does Not Turn Into Big Tobacco
Bernie will ensure the cannabis industry doesn’t turn into Big Tobacco by implementing a number of precautions which include:
- Incentivise cannabis businesses to be structured like nonprofits
- Prohibit products and labels that target young people
- Ban any company that has a product that could cause cancer
- Prohibit deceptive marketing
- Ban any tobacco related corporation from entering the cannabis industry
- Granting the federal government regulatory authority to ensure the safety of cannabis products
Bernie’s cannabis legalization plan is incredibly detailed and structured to have real promise for the legal cannabis industry should he be elected as president.
Democratic candidate – third in most national polls
Sen. Elizabeth Warren is running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and has developed quite a reputation for her belief in modernizing cannabis laws.
Whilst she lacks a plan as detailed as Sanders, she has demonstrated her commitment to its reform through her past contributions in several major pieces of cannabis reform legislation.
This includes the CARERS Act, which was designed to protect medical cannabis patients from federal prosecution and encourage further research into the effects of the plant by obliging the Attorney General and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to provide more licenses to medical cannabis cultivators and researchers.
The second was the Marijuana Justice Act which seeks to reverse decades of failed drug policy. The Act would remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances and expunge the convictions of individuals who have served federal time for cannabis use.
Last year Warren signed onto a legislation that would require VA (Veterans Affairs) to study medical cannabis and has co-sponsored three bills aimed at providing access to banking for cannabis businesses these include the SAFE Banking Act in 2017 and 2019 and the Marijuna Businesses Access to Banking Act in 2015.
She also introduced the STATES Act bill with Republican Senator Cory Gardner, to allow states to make their own laws in regards to cannabis legalization and be safe from Federal interference. The initial impetus for the bill was a reaction to then attorney-general Jeff Session’s decision to rescind the Cole Memorandum that discouraged the enforcement of federal cannabis prohibition laws.
Not only has she demonstrated her commitment to the legalization of cannabis through her actions, she hasn’t been shy of voicing her opinion. During a campaign stop in Iowa in 2018, Warren stated that “it’s just time to legalize [cannabis] nationally” and has made many tweets on the topic…
Warren believes “No one should go to jail for a joint. But more Americans are arrested for marijuana possession than all violent crimes combined. And black Americans are nearly 4x more likely to be arrested for it than whites. [Warren’s] new bill will help put an end to this two-tiered justice system.”
Warren holds an ‘A’ record from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Democratic candidate – fourth in most national polls
Since South Bend, Indiana mayor, Pete Buttigieg announced that he is running for president he has stated his support for cannabis legalization and drug decriminalization.
Buttigieg has never acted on any cannabis legislation during his time in the mayor’s office. However, in 2017 he approved an ordinance that prohibited businesses in the city from selling synthetic cannabis stating that synthetic cannabis “sometimes available in convenience stores and gas stations, [is] much more dangerous than actual marijuana”.
In July, Buttigieg released a racial justice plan that stated under a Buttigieg administration “…on the federal level, we will eliminate incarceration for drug possession, reduce sentences for other drug offenses…” and the big one, “legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions.”
It goes on to state that “Despite equal rates of use, Black Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for using marijuana” and that “Research shows that incarceration for drug offenses has no effect on drug misuse, drug arrests, or overdose deaths. In fact, some studies show that incarceration actually increases the rate of overdose deaths.”
This policy is a part of Buttigieg’s plan to “achieve a 50 percent reduction in incarceration in this country without an increase in crime,” he went on to say that “we can do it by legalizing marijuana and eliminating incarceration for simple drug possession.”
At the Iowa State Fair in August, Buttigieg stated “…When we legalize marijuana-which we ought to do- we ought to have expungements as well for people whose incarceration is doing more harm than the original offense did…”
We are interested to see if Buttigieg will follow through with his plan If he were elected as president in the upcoming election.
As stated in the Douglas plan, “We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this public health problem.”
To read more about Buttigieg’s plan head to https://peteforamerica.com/policies/douglass-plan/#CriminalJusticeReform
Democratic candidate – fifth in most national polls
California US Senator, Kamala Harris , is committed to the legalization of cannabis and believes “it’s time we do the smart thing – the right thing – and ensure any marijuana reform legislation we put on the table adequately addresses the harm caused by the failed drug policies of the past”
The Senators opinion hasn’t always swayed in favour of cannabis legalization, having expressed her opposition in 2010 when she opposed a measure in California that would have legalized cannabis as she believed “that drug selling harms communities.”
Five years later she stated her support for medicinal cannabis and is now advocating for the full legalization of cannabis. Her publicly-stated beliefs have closely followed changes in public opinion with the majority of Americans now in favour of cannabis legalization.
Harris wrote in a book released earlier in the year that “We need to legalize marijuana and regulate it.” she writes. “And we need to expunge nonviolent marijuana-related offenses from the records of the millions of people who have been arrested and incarcerated so they can get on with their lives.”
Senator Harris, along with U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, introduced a comprehensive piece of cannabis reform legislation in July called the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act.
- Decriminalize cannabis at the federal level by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. This will also apply to prior and pending convictions.
- Requires federal courts to expunge all prior convictions
- Through placing a 5% sales tax on cannabis products an Opportunity Trust Fund will be created for three grant programs
- The Community Reinvestment Grant Program
- The Cannabis Opportunity Grant Program
- The Equitable Licensing Grant Program
- Allows for non-discrimination protections for cannabis possession
While Harris’ recent push for cannabis legalization is a great initiative that hits all of the pain points for cannabis, when looking at her past beliefs on the topic things get a little concerning. Is the senator simply telling the public what they want to hear in order to be elected president? Or has she genuinely had a change of heart?
With a strong focus on cannabis legalization amongst presidential candidates and many different opinions being represented in the field, the outcome of the election could shape the state of cannabis within America for decades to come.