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2020 Candidates on Weed

As we think about the growing marijuana industry, an important question that we have to ask is, where is marijuana legalization headed next? Currently, weed is fully legal for all uses in ten states and is only completely illegal in ten states (half of which are in the south).

A lot of that legalization is because of former President Obama. Obama had a generally lax view of marijuana laws and issued guidelines through Gil Kerlikowske, the former Director of National Drug Control Policy to ease back the criminalization of marijuana. Obama also notably allowed states to legalize marijuana without federal interference. This was rather unorthodox since marijuana is a federally illegal drug on the same level as heroin.

President Trump has taken a stance on marijuana which is more-or-less exactly the opposite of Obama’s. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote in 2018 that he was directing “all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country”, insinuating that people who sell marijuana are violent criminals, but also meaning that all of the leniency of the Obama era towards weed is under threat by Trump’s administration. For the growing weed industry, it is important to know what the future holds in terms of marijuana legislation.

Despite the Trump administration’s ardent anti-marijuana policies to date, change is in the air. According to Politico, “Sen. Cory Gardner said Thursday that President Donald Trump told him he’d sign legislation to ensure states can decide for themselves whether to legalize marijuana”. Politico also states that once Sessions left the White House, there was a lot more hope from lawmakers that they would be able to move forward a bill that would allow states to legalize marijuana without federal interference. Attorney General William Barr does not oppose national marijuana legalization, though he is not excited about it. There is also some speculation that Trump would sign the proposed marijuana reform bill for his own political gain. If passed, this bill would effectively render Democrats’ pro-marijuana efforts ineffective or unnecessary and take away some of their clout in the 2020 election.

All of this is speculation of course. We don’t know what the president is going to do. It also assumes that Trump will have a second term in which to enforce a pro-pot stance. This is also not guaranteed. With that in mind, let’s look at the stances of other 2020 candidates as it relates to weed.

The current democratic front runner is former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden was a senator for 36 years representing Delaware before he became Vice President. It is notable that recreational marijuana use is illegal in Delaware though it is also decriminalized in small amounts.

Biden’s views on the legalization of marijuana are pretty much in step with the laws of his home state. Starting in the 70s, he opposed marijuana legalization. Biden didn’t just say he disapproved of weed. He backed it up with disastrous legislation. He was one of the politicians behind mandatory minimums for drug possession and the War on Drugs. He maintains to this day that marijuana is a gateway drug even though that theory has been disproved for the vast majority of people.

Biden has more recently changed his stance on marijuana to say that it should be decriminalized but not legalized. He also wants to expunge the records of people currently in prison for marijuana possession. However, Biden’s campaign website says absolutely nothing about his views on marijuana legalization (or otherwise). Biden stands out as the most regressive candidate, when it comes to legalizing weed, on either side of the aisle.

Senator Elizabeth Warren is currently polling second after Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination. She represents Massachusetts, a state where marijuana is legal in all forms with some notable restrictions. It might, therefore, be safe to assume that Warren supports nationwide weed legalization. If you think that, you would be correct. Not only does Warren say she supports marijuana legalization, she backs it up with legislation. Warren is the lead sponsor on an act which would restrict the federal government from interfering with states’ ability to legalize weed. It would also help to fix some of the issues with banking that the marijuana industry currently faces. Warren also supports further research into marijuana’s medical uses, specifically as they benefit veterans and other people who suffer from PTSD.

Polling third for the Democrats is Senator Kamala Harris from California where weed is legal for all uses with restrictions very similar to those in Massachusetts. Harris, like Biden, has a history of opposing marijuana legalization. In 2010, she opposed recreational marijuana legalization in her state, though she did support its medicinal uses. At the time, Harris’ campaign manager said that the fact that she had been a prosecutor had not warmed her to recreational drug use. Harris also opposed marijuana legalization in 2014 during her campaign for California Attorney General. She changed stances a year later in 2015 when she said that the federal government should allow medical marijuana.

Harris has recently evolved on her stance towards marijuana. This month, she collaborated with Representative Jerry Nadler to create legislation which would decriminalize marijuana on the federal level, allow states to decide for themselves, expunge the records of people convicted for weed-related crimes, and remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act where it sits next to heroin and LSD.

Polling fourth at the moment is Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont, where pot is legal. Sanders supports the legalization of marijuana which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about him. For someone with a long career, Sanders has a pretty good record with weed, supporting it as early as the ’90s. While marijuana legalization is currently part of Sanders’ criminal justice reform, this was not always the case. In the ’90s, though he supported the legalization of marijuana, Sanders voted for a bill that would have meant that anyone carrying a gun, even if it was legal, would have accrued a mandatory minimum sentence if they were also carrying weed. This and other legislation Sanders voted for back in the day seem to imply that, while his stance on weed has been consistently positive, his stance on people has been more prone to evolution.

Fifth and last on this list is Pete Buttigieg, the Mayor of South Bend Indiana, where only medicinal marijuana is legal. Buttigieg, being only 37, doesn’t have much of a history on marijuana policy. He didn’t do anything while mayor to help or hurt weed legalization. However he has said that he believes weed should be legalized.

When it comes down to it, there is no one who has a chance of becoming president in 2020 (this includes people not on this list) that does not support some sort of marijuana reform. Across the aisle, no one thinks that people should be serving long sentences for weed. But marijuana is also not an unimportant issue. It is a politically important issue that has huge implications around race, class, and business for the large and growing weed industry. It is important to pay attention to upcoming marijuana news as it relates to the 2020 race.

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