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2020 presidential candidates’ views on marijuana: suddenly presidential candidates are 420-friendly?

Mar 14, 2019

It seems lately that there’s one issue that a convincing majority of Americans can agree on. That is that weed, it seems, is not so evil after all. In fact, support for legalization has become so mainstream that the field of 2020 presidential hopefuls is nearly unanimous in their support of enacting federal cannabis reforms.

This is not surprising, considering the vast majority of governors, senators, and representatives that hail from states that have legalized pot in one form or another (with total disregard for Federal cannabis policies, might we add).

Over the past half of the century, marijuana’s public image has undergone a complete makeover. Weed has gone from being considered as public nuisance number one—purportedly the domain of crazed, brown-skinned jazz musicians, murderous Mexican immigrants, dirty hippies, and juvenile delinquents—to a life saving medicine and recreational drug which is proving to be far safer, or at least far less deadly, than the likes of opioids, alcohol, and tobacco.

Although about three dozen U.S. states and territories, and now both Canada and Mexico, have legalized cannabis in one form or another, the United States federal government hasn’t been so quick to embrace cannabis reforms.

In all fairness and with all due respect, Washington lawmakers did pass, and President Trump did sign, comprehensive hemp reforms. Efforts to tear down federal prohibition are mounting now that Democrats control the House of Representatives.

That being said, back in the 2016 election, any mention of support for ending cannabis prohibition was half-hearted at best, and, for the most part, the issue was swept under the rug so that candidates could move on to seemingly much more pressing matters. Since then, there has been a sea of change among Democrats, in particular, as well as some measure of defection within Republican ranks.

In just four short years, legal weed has gone from a novelty issue to a must-have policy plank, at least for Democratic candidates, with surprising support amongst Republican hopefuls.

It will be some time before they’re taking 4:20 breaks on the hill, however. Not one lawmaker in Washington has come out and admitted to being a cannabis user—yet. It is, however, becoming all the rage to be in favor of allowing others to partake in the recreational or medicinal use of cannabis, should they so desire.

What the people want

Ironically, pot, once severely maligned as the “evil weed”, now enjoys levels of voter recognition and respect that political candidates can only dream about.

Before the 1960s, marijuana got pretty much zero media attention. That all changed in the late ’60s with the rise of rock concerts and the hippie movement. Unfortunately, cannabis was not portrayed in a favorable light at the time. Newsreels showed throngs of freaked out hippies passing around joints at rock music festivals.

[Presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard is the latest 2020 contender to introduce legislation to legalize cannabis]

At that time, support for legalization was just starting to poke above the single digits. According to a Gallup poll of the time, by the late 60s, little more than one in ten Americans supported legalization. By the turn of the century, that figure had risen substantially. As of the year 2000, more than three in ten Americans were in favor of legalizing marijuana. That’s a rise of almost 20 percent in three decades. That’s BIG.

Although Californians have been using pot for medicinal purposes since the mid-90s, at the turn of the century, discussions about legalizing cannabis at the federal level were practically nonexistent. And politicians—especially those gunning for the POTUS chair—would not have dared to come out in favor of legal weed. (Even Bill Clinton claimed he didn’t inhale.)

The first 20 percent rise in public opinion took nearly a half century. However, just a couple decades later, support for some measure of federal cannabis reform now stands at a record two-thirds of American voters. Few political issues have ever seen that large of a swing in public support.

Among Democrats, support for legalization is even higher, currently hovering around 75 percent. And, surprisingly, legalization now commands a majority, even among Republican voters. In 2018, Gallup put support for ending prohibition at 53 percent among Republicans.

To date, 33 states have given the okay to medical use of marijuana in one form or another. Even more astonishing is the fact that 10 U.S. states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana by adults. And that number is expected to rise by at least 50 percent in the next couple of years with lawmakers in states such as New York, New Jersey, and others on the verge of legalizing adult recreational use. There are also a number of voter initiatives currently in the works across the country which could be put to vote in November of 2020.

Presidential candidates are hoping that some of that love will rub off on them and help lead them to victory in 2020. However, among U.S. voters, a candidate’s lack of support for repealing prohibition doesn’t seem to be high on the list of deal breakers in the upcoming election.

But, in truth, that doesn’t even matter. The fact of the matter is that all of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, so far, are in favor of taking pot regulatory powers out of the hands of the federal government and putting in the hands of individual states. And there are even some Republicans, Trump among them, who have expressed willingness to roll back prohibition.

For those of you who hate spoilers, as much as hearing that a field full of pro-pot presidential hopefuls may imply how the story ends, don’t be fooled. Even with Democrats in control of the House, and even assuming a Democrat wins the White House back, victory is not guaranteed.

Democratic presidential candidates views on marijuana

Up until 2016, no presidential candidate had ever come out in favor of ending Federal prohibition of marijuana. That election year, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton stated that, on one hand, she was in favor of allowing states to continue to legalize and regulate marijuana without federal intervention, but, on the other hand, she was not in favor of federal legalization. In case you missed it, that’s typical political doublespeak, as those two goals are essentially irreconcilable. “Look the other way,” is not sound federal policy. Her opponent, Donald J. Trump, echoed that sentiment.

[Peru's "competitive and modern" cannabis deregulation seeks to benefit Peruvians]

Notwithstanding the fact that a majority of Democrats favored federal cannabis reform, President Obama was also opposed to legalizing marijuana. However, the “look the other way” strategy was apparently good enough for his administration.

This year it’s a whole new ballgame. Every single one of the Democrats who has announced their candidacy or potential candidacy has also come out in favor of federal cannabis reform. Democrats in Washington D.C. who prefer to continue federal prohibition are now becoming a rare breed.

Let’s take a very brief look at each of the current Democratic presidential hopefuls and unbox their current views on the issue of marijuana legalization.

Sen. Cory Booker, New Jersey

New Jersey Democrat, Sen. Cory Booker, has been a vociferous proponent of federal cannabis reform. Just recently, Sen. Booker reintroduced his signature cannabis bill, the Marijuana Justice Act. First introduced in 2017, the bill aims to not only decriminalize marijuana at the federal level but also to provide financial incentives for states to do the same. The bill would also expunge prior federal convictions for possession and use.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont

Bernie Sanders, arguably the most 420-friendly candidate in the race, has one of the most progressive records on marijuana legalization in the Senate. In 1995, Sanders co-sponsored a bill in the House that would authorize medical marijuana in cases of "life-threatening" and "sense-threatening" illness. In 2016, Sanders was the first serious presidential contender ever to be in favor of legalization. That same year he filed the first-ever Senate bill to end cannabis prohibition. It’s also worth noting that Sanders’ home state of Vermont recently become the first state in the country to legalize marijuana via an act of the legislature.

Sen. Kamala Harris, California

California Sen. Kamala Harris has not always been in favor of legalization. In 2010 Harris was elected to the post of attorney general in California. While there, Harris staunchly opposed efforts to expand the state’s pot programs. In 2014 Her Honor laughed in the face of a local news reporter who asked her if she supported legalizing recreational marijuana. But in 2015 Harris semi-flip-flopped on the issue coming out in support of medical marijuana. In her recently released book, Harris came out in support of legalizing pot and expunging criminal records for those convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota

Centrist Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar says she supports research into medical uses for cannabis and believes states should have the right to regulate cannabis. However, in 2016, Klobuchar was given a "D" rating by NORML for her stance on drugs. Klobuchar has yet to sign on to Booker's legislation, but she has signed onto another proposal, the "Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act." Minnesota will be voting on recreational marijuana in 2019. If the initiative passes, Minnesota will have much higher stakes in ending federal prohibition in 2020.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has signed onto several pieces of marijuana legislation, including Booker's Marijuana Justice Act. Known for having one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate, Gillibrand has been an outspoken opponent of the War On Drugs and an advocate for enlisting cannabis in the war on opioids. Her home state of New York is poised to become the 11th or 12th state to legalize recreational cannabis.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts

Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been a front line warrior for weed in Washington. Her home state of Massachusetts has big stakes in the race with nascent medical and recreational programs. Warren is one of the lead sponsors of the STATES Act. She's also signed onto the Marijuana Justice Act and other major drug policy reform bills. Half a decade ago Warren was criticizing her opponents for wanting to legalize weed. During her campaign against Republican Dan Winslow in 2013, Warren warned that Wilson, “has a 100-percent ranking from the gun lobby and he’s for the legalization of marijuana. He wants us armed and stoned."

Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Texas

Beto O'Rourke, just today announced his candidacy. Recently in an email to his supporters, O’Rourke called for an end to prohibition. O’Rourke has also been outspoken in his belief that legalizing marijuana is the best strategy for weakening drug cartels.

Gov.  Jay Inslee, Washington

During his 2012 run for governor, Jay Inslee opposed Washington’s recreational ballot initiative. More recently, in a speech announcing his run for president, he told supporters that it’s "about time" to end federal prohibition. As Governor, Inslee urged both the Obama and Trump administrations to muzzle the DEA and DOJ. He has also been on a pardoning spree erasing thousands of convictions for marijuana possession.

Gov.  John Hickenlooper, Colorado

Arguably the least 420-friendly in the bunch, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper opposed the 2012 ballot measure that fully legalized marijuana, but was praised for accepting the will of the voters and implementing the measure. Hickenlooper has called upon the federal government to remove marijuana from Schedule 1, the most restrictive level on the DEA’s list of controlled substances, in order to allow more clinical studies.

Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro

Former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro served as the 16th Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama from 2014 to 2017. From time-to-time, Castro has expressed support for some measure of federal cannabis reform, exactly how much is still not clearly defined. Castro now resides in Florida which has evolved a full-blown medical cannabis program and is governed by a Republican with a record of respecting the will of the people in matters pertaining to marijuana.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg, South Bend, Ind.

Progressive candidate Pete Buttigieg, who currently serves as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is believed by pundits to have little chance of winning the presidency in his first outing. However, according to a report by Mashable, a representative from Buttigieg's office has said he is in favor of legalization.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii

Hawaiian Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, another relatively little known candidate recognized for her progressive views on cannabis reform, was a lead sponsor on a bill requiring the state to study the dynamics of marijuana programs in other states. She has clearly stated her support for ending federal prohibition and for setting aside federal funding for medical marijuana research. She has also been a frank critic of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

[More than half of U.S. states working on new and expanded cannabis reforms]

What Republican hopefuls are thinking

Prior to the 2016 elections, in a presidential debate, our current POTUS took the position that marijuana legalization should be left up to the states. However, that view apparently did not factor into Trump’s decision to appoint “Reefer Madness” fanboy Jeff Sessions to the post of U.S. attorney general.

The only Republican so far to express a serious interest in challenging Trump in the 2020 Republican primaries is Starbucks' CEO, Howard Schultz. In 2012, Schultz home state of Washington was the first U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana, but Schultz’s views on the issue are undefined as of yet. And it’s not yet clear whether Schultz would run as a Republican or as a third party candidate.

Former Mass. Governor Bill Weld just recently formed an exploratory committee to look into the feasibility of a Weld presidency. Weld's views on marijuana are far clearer than those of Schultz. Weld makes no bones about his interest in the cannabiz. Weld sits on the board of directors of cannabis conglomerate Acreage Holdings (OTCMKTS:ACRGF).

As governor of Massachusetts in the early 1990s, Weld supported medical marijuana even before California led the country in legalizing medical use. Weld has also expressed his support for the STATES Act, which aims to repeal federal prohibition and hand regulatory duties over to the states.

Legalization is not going to be a cake walk

With the high likelihood that the winner of the next presidential election will be pro-state’s rights when it comes to cannabis, there’s essentially only one single roadblock in the way of the American people getting their way on this issue. Republican lawmakers, although they seem to be coming around on the issue more and more as it becomes clearer what’s at stake, for the most part, they feel that they know better than two-thirds of Americans and, a majority of Republican voters are against federal cannabis policy reforms. Let’s not forget, Republicans control the United States Senate.

Up until recently, Republicans also controlled the House. In both branches of the capitol, senior members of the party have continually blocked all attempts to advance cannabis-related bills and amendments.

Even with Democrats in control of the House, winning both the presidency and a senate majority will not be enough to clear that roadblock, unfortunately. In order to guarantee success, Democrats must win a filibuster-proof majority of senate seats. Alternatively, they could work really, really hard to convince Senate Republicans that they’ve been wrong about the issue all along. Good luck with that.

According to polls, it’s very unlikely that voters will switch parties over the issue or renounce their preferred candidate just because he or she is opposed to legalizing pot. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted in 2018 asked respondents whether they would be likely to vote for a candidate who was against legalizing marijuana. A full 82 percent of respondents said no. Marijuana is not an important enough issue to unseat an otherwise perfectly good politician in their eyes.

One thing is for sure—cannabis industry stakeholders and legalization advocates will be keeping a close eye on both the 2020 presidential election and the legal marijuana movement in Congress, as will we here at PotNetwork. Stay tuned.

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