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2020 Presidential Election

The upcoming 2020 Presidential election will be the first time in nearly a century that marijuana has a legitimate shot at federal reform. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, signed the  Marihuana Tax Act in 1937, officially making it illegal. Then-commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger manipulated pre-existing national racism by citing instances of Mexicans using cannabis before committing crimes. His propaganda machine created enough hysteria to ban what was previously one of the more popular medicines in the United States. Since then there has been no legitimate effort to change federal policy.

In the digital age, it’s become nothing short of impossible to hide science, and this time around most candidates maintain pro-pot platforms. Democrats have accumulated a diverse pool of nominees in favor of reform ready to battle it out in the primaries for a chance to run against President Donald Trump. The previous contest for President saw a strong presence of the Libertarian Party. Now lacking any serious representation, it’s unlikely they will be missed with the democratic diversity this year. The only legitimate independent candidate, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, is heavily centrist, more conservative than most liberals and more reasonable than Republicans.

Far from a black and white issue, the question about cannabis is not merely to legalize or not to legalize. With federal reform, should lawmakers leave legalization to the states to decide? Should VA doctors prescribe medical marijuana to veterans, and if they do would the nation see a rescheduling by the DEA? How can taxation be handled? When will policy be adjusted to permit banks to work with the cannabis industry? The answers to these questions vary among candidates as they do in the voting public.

I have compiled a guide to each pro-reform candidate’s actual stance on cannabis, diving deeper than merely “for” or “against.”

Democrats

Terry Mcauliffe

Terry Mcauliffe, Virginia’s Governor from 2014-2018, has been a strong supporter of cannabis in the face of a historically conservative state legislature. In an interview on WTOP radio, McAuliffe affirmed he supported legislation that would legalize medical marijuana in Virginia. Terry signed measures to decriminalize two medical marijuana CBD derivatives for the treatment of epilepsy in 2015. The oils allowed under the law lacked the psychoactive elements of THC and earned bipartisan support. An inside source says Joe Biden’s decision to run will dictate his potential success, with them both being attractive to the conservative Democratic vote.

Joe Biden

Biden believes weed is a “gateway drug,” and supports decriminalization, but not legalization. He promoted the war on drugs and sponsored the R.A.V.E. (Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy) Act which held building owners liable for drugs sold on their premises.

Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar has served as a Senator for Minnesota since 2006. Klobuchar has recently received backlash recently for her management style, being rated as the worst person in Congress to work for. She embraces her tough image, forged in middle America in a household with an alcoholic father and highlighted by her announcement speech in a Minneapolis blizzard. While she is an inspiring woman, the United States has a fondness for more glamorous Presidents. Reagan was a movie star. George Bush was from a wealthy family and smuggled cocaine into the country. His son was, well, a President’s son. Obama had been somewhat of a rockstar in the Senate and had the ability to bring people together, kind of the opposite of Klobuchar. Trump is well, Trump, a little bit of everything it seems, part rich kid, part businessman, TV star, and Twitter personality. If the democratic party does warm up to Amy, she is in favor of providing banking for canna-businesses. She thinks states should decide whether to legalize medical and recreational cannabis but doesn’t support full federal legalization.

Elizabeth Warren

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren isn’t known as a cruel boss. Instead, she has made a name for herself pushing relatively progressive legislation in Washington, D.C. She sponsored the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which she filed in bipartisan partnership with Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) in June 2018. The legislation would amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to exempt state-legal marijuana activity from federal interference and is also aimed at addressing banking access issues for the cannabis industry. Elizabeth Warren

The senator has co-sponsored at least six other significant pieces of cannabis reform legislation. She supported two wide-ranging bills from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ): the CARERS Act, which was designed to protect medical marijuana patients from federal enforcement efforts and stimulate research into the plant; and the Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove marijuana from the CSA and direct federal courts to expunge the criminal records of those previously convicted of a cannabis-related offense. The latter bill withholds funding from states that maintain discriminatory enforcement of marijuana laws.

Warren also signed onto a marijuana de-scheduling bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and another that would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis for veterans. She co-sponsored two bills providing banking access to marijuana companies: the SAFE Banking Act in 2017 and the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act in 2015.

Elizabeth Warren sent a bipartisan letter (along with 53 other Senators and Representatives)  urging Trump to direct former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reinstate the Cole memorandum, an Obama-era document providing guidance on federal marijuana enforcement.  Trump would go on to fire Sessions and nominate William Barr for the position.

Kamala Harris


As the district attorney of San Francisco, Kamala Harris opposed 2010 legalization legislation in California, believe “that drug selling harms communities,” her campaign manager at the time told Capitol Weekly. She has since reiterated her support for medical marijuana legalization, just not recreational.

In her book released in early 2019, Harris wrote: “We need to legalize marijuana and regulate it, 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.”

Julian Castro

Julian Castro served as mayor of San Antonio from 2009 to 2014 and worked as the 16th United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Barack Obama from 2014 to 2017. HUD published a 2014 memo clarifying that owners of federally assisted housing facilities are required to deny entry to people who use marijuana, even for medical purposes following state law.  He’s separately stated publicly that the White House should not crackdown on recreational cannabis use. “State voters should have that power.” He is one of the candidates considered pro-marijuana that may not truly be committed to his stance.
Julian Castro

 

 

 

 

 

Tulsi Gabbard 

Tulsi Gabbard was the U.S. Representative for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district since 2013. “There are states that have legalized, whether it’s just medical or full legalization. There has proven to be a direct correlation to a drastic reduction in opioid-related deaths in those states where people have access,” the Representative said in an appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience. “If we know this, and every one of the leaders in this country is so concerned about this opioid epidemic, why hasn’t this been brought forward?”

“It’s huge,” she said of medical cannabis benefits, “especially these kids with epilepsy and those with other medical disorders.”

Kirsten Gillibrand


Kirsten Gillibrand did not co-sponsor any cannabis-related bills during her time in the House of Representatives from 2007 to 2009, although colleagues filed several. She voted against a floor amendment to protect state medical marijuana laws from federal interference. She has served New York as a United States Senator since 2009 and evolved on the issue in recent years. 

Gillibrand signed several Senate cannabis bills including the Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and punish states that enforce marijuana laws disproportionately against people of color. She also co-sponsored legislation designed to protect medical marijuana states from federal interference, make it easier to conduct research on cannabis, and legalize industrial hemp. Another research-related bill she co-sponsored would encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to study how marijuana can treat specific conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.

In April 2018, Gillibrand sent a letter to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, requesting that he attend a meeting with some of her constituents who’ve been arrested for non-violent marijuana offenses. “It is an American principle that no matter the law, it should be applied equally to all people, regardless of their race or background,” she wrote. “Sadly, as you will hear from my constituents, for decades, the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has not been pursued with equality.” Sessions did not attend.

She also joined a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers who sent a letter to Sessions, imploring him to update them on the status of applications to cultivate cannabis for federal research purposes. These applications have sat unreviewed for years, preventing the national studies the DEA claims they need in order to reconsider their classification of marijuana.

Gillibrand’s 2018 Senate reelection campaign used a marijuana petition as a list-building technique. Her sign up page read, “Discriminatory drug policies are robbing people and families of job opportunities, time with their loved ones and their futures. In New York, black and Latino people are almost 10 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than their white neighbors – though usage rates are the same. We have to act now to fix this horrible injustice. It’s time to decriminalize and legalize marijuana so we can begin repairing the harm caused by the failed War on Drugs. Add your name right now to tell Congress: Decriminalize marijuana!”

Kirsten answered a question during a Presidential campaign stop about how she would help military veterans by saying, “make sure they have access to medicines like medical marijuana.” She’s probably the greatest comeback story of this list since she was initially not supportive of cannabis before compiling her impressive pro-pot resume.

Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang is a New York entrepreneur who wants to implement universal income, fight opioid addiction, and provide Medicare to all Americans. On the subject of marijuana, he’s said,  “I don’t love marijuana. I’d rather people not use it heavily. But it’s vastly safer than people becoming addicted to opiates like heroin. And our criminalization of it seems stupid and racist, particularly now that it’s legal in some states. We should proceed with full legalization of marijuana and pardon those in jail for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses. It’s a safer, less addictive means to manage pain for many Americans.”

Corey Booker

Cory Booker (D-NJ) is a former Newark, New Jersey mayor and perhaps marijuana’s greatest advocate at the federal level. Booker launched his candidacy with an interview on the Tom Joyner Morning Show where emphasized that a crucial part of his platform is marijuana reform: “It means changing our drug laws, ending prohibition against marijuana. Black folks are no different in their usage rates or even the dealing rates, but are almost four times more likely to be incarcerated for marijuana,” he said. “We do not have equal justice under the law.”

Booker sponsored the Marijuana Justice Act—a bill that would end federal prohibition by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. The bill would also penalize states where marijuana laws are enforced in a racially disproportionate manner and establish a federal grant program to invest in communities that have been targeted in the war on drugs.

The legislation amassed six co-sponsors, including other 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), as well as potential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT).

“Descheduling marijuana and applying that change retroactively to people currently serving time for marijuana offenses is a necessary step in correcting this unjust system,” Booker said in a press release when he filed the bill. “States have so far led the way in reforming our criminal justice system, and it’s about time the federal government catches up and begins to assert leadership.”

He’s also championed the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, the first Senate Bill filed to downgrade cannabis. The act would have protected medical cannabis patients and businesses from federal intervention and also require the Drug Enforcement Administration to license additional marijuana cultivators for national research. While it didn’t make it through in 2015, it was reintroduced this year by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)

“We need policies that empower states to legalize medical marijuana if they so choose—recognizing that there are Americans who can realize real medical benefits if this treatment option is brought out of the shadows,” Booker has said.

Booker has also co-sponsored legislation protecting states that have legalized marijuana from federal enforcement and another bill that would allow banks to work with cannabis businesses operating in compliance with state law without fear of federal penalties. After then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer mentioned that the federal government would increase enforcement against legal marijuana states, Booker and 10 other senators sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, urging the Justice Department to respect states’ right when it comes to cannabis policy. Sessions received another letter from Booker and two other Democratic colleagues in 2017, who implored Sessions not to reverse Obama-era Justice Department policies and make low-level drug offenders face longer mandatory minimum sentences.

Booker put his name on a bipartisan letter to congressional leaders, expressing frustration that a provision that would’ve allowed physicians at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to discuss and recommend medical cannabis was excluded from a 2016 spending bill.

Booker said that personal experience was not what informed his position on cannabis: “I have never smoked marijuana, I have never smoked a cigarette, I have never eaten marijuana, I have never tried another drug, I have never drank alcohol,” he told Vice. “This to me is not an issue I come at through my own experimentations.” “I come at this as an issue of justice, as an issue of safety for our communities, as an issue of utter fairness,” he said. “But I will tell you what, I might have my first drink of alcohol if my bill can become a law.”

Bernie Sanders

Speaking at George Washington University, Sanders talked about some of the main points in his book, which reflects on the first two years under President Trump’s administration and makes arguments for progressive policies moving forward.

“What we learned is that the American people, including many conservatives, understand that we need fundamental reform of a broken criminal justice system, which includes, by the way, ending this disastrous so-called ‘War on Drugs,’ which has destroyed many lives,” he said in the speech.

Sanders has stated and voted his support for recreational cannabis many times in the past.

Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams served as Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017. She supports the cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes. She says she would seek to decriminalize some marijuana offenses and invoked a new Atlanta policy that calls for a maximum fine of $75 and no mandatory jail time for small amounts.

Hillary Clinton

“I do support the use of medical marijuana,” Hillary Clinton said during a Democratic presidential debate in October 2015. “And I think even there we need to do a lot more research so that we know exactly how we’re going to help people for whom medical marijuana provides relief.” Wife of former President Bill Clinton, who signed the Three Strikes Rule into law, she is notorious for changing positions to reflect the popular vote. While she currently says she supports cannabis reform, there’s been no official stance on what that means and it would be hard to believe she would make any major changes if elected.

Independent

Howard Schultz is the lone independent candidate getting attention this year. As the former CEO of Starbucks, his business acumen speaks for itself. Schultz has criticisms for the current government in spades, disapproving tax policy, trade, immigration, debt, gun control, and the economy, but he has yet to offer any real solutions. Consistent with his style, he has no real stance on marijuana even though he lives in a state at the forefront of reform (Washington). Outside of saying the current federal policy is broken he hasn’t been able to commit to a cannabis platform of any kind.

Republicans

Donald Trump

President Trump has not stopped cannabis since his election. In fact, he ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions shortly after his repeal of the Cole Memorandum and nominated William Barr for the position. Barr went on to put his commitment to allowing states to choose their own marijuana policy in writing. Trump quietly signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp cultivation. He was in office as the DEA reclassified CBD to a safe, medicinal substance. Rumor has it that he may use marijuana reform as an ace up his sleeve during the 2020 campaign. 

Going further than any preceding President, in June of 2018 Trump said he’d support a bipartisan bill that would end the federal ban on pot and defer to states’ laws on marijuana legalization. Before leaving the White House for the G-7 Summit, Trump told reporters he “probably will end up supporting” the bill, which Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had presented. “I support Senator Gardner. I know exactly what he’s doing,” Trump commented, “We’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that.”

John Kasich

With talk of removing President Trump from office becoming a recurring theme in 2019, former Governor of Ohio John Kasich is ready to fill in for the Republican party. He is blatantly anti-marijuana; however, he signed a medical marijuana bill in 2016 in order to keep voters after pro-pot politicians were receiving major support.

This list goes to show how many subtle differences exist within the subject of cannabis reform. Hopefully, this breakdown will assist readers in finding a candidate who’s real views match up with their own. The fact that marijuana now has such support among politicians is itself a small victory. Hopefully, pro-pot voters will find a cannabis-friendly candidate they can really get behind in the 2020 Presidential Election.

Bibliography

“DeGette Signs Bipartisan Letter to President Trump Urging Action to Protect State Marijuana Laws.” Congresswoman Diana DeGette. January 25, 2018. https://degette.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/degette-signs-bipartisan-letter-to-president-trump-urging-action-to.

Jaeger, Kyle. “Where Presidential Candidate Cory Booker Stands On Marijuana.” Marijuana Moment. February 11, 2019. https://www.marijuanamoment.net/where-presidential-candidate-cory-booker-stands-on-marijuana/.

Jaeger, Kyle. “Where Presidential Candidate Cory Booker Stands On Marijuana.” Marijuana Moment. February 11, 2019. https://www.marijuanamoment.net/where-presidential-candidate-cory-booker-stands-on-marijuana/.

Jaeger, Kyle. “Where Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren Stands On Marijuana.” Marijuana Moment. February 11, 2019. https://www.marijuanamoment.net/where-presidential-contender-elizabeth-warren-stands-on-marijuana/.

Jaeger, Kyle. “Where Presidential Candidate Kirsten Gillibrand Stands On Marijuana.” Marijuana Moment. January 21, 2019. https://www.marijuanamoment.net/where-presidential-candidate-kirsten-gillibrand-stands-on-marijuana/.

Krane, Kris. “The Five Best U.S. Senators On Marijuana Policy.” Forbes. October 24, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kriskrane/2018/10/24/the-five-best-u-s-senators-on-marijuana-policy/#5d1825066d3e.

“On This Date: FDR Made Marijuana Illegal 81 Years Ago.” Countable. https://www.countable.us/articles/849-date-fdr-made-marijuana-illegal-81-years-ago.

Schwartz, Ian. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Okay With Sitting President Smoking Marijuana: “It’s Fine With Me”.” Video | RealClearPolitics. https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2019/02/14/alexandria_ocasio-cortez_okay_with_sitting_president_smoking_marijuana_its_fine_with_me.html.

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