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The nation is careening toward the 2020 election and the list of issues that the presumptive nominees have to (or should) address is daunting. With the menace of COVID-19 looming, protests over police brutality continuing and the rapidly changing climate worsening, there are many urgent situations that will be faced by whoever wins on Tuesday, November 3. Furthermore, the question of federal marijuana legalization is still a concern for many citizens who rely on cannabis for medical relief, the hundreds of thousands of people working in the growing cannabis industry and researchers eager to analyze marijuana without the federal government's draconian restrictions. We want to know - where do the presidential candidates stand on pot?
Before we get into the presidential candidates' stances on cannabis, let's look at the current status of weed in the U.S. Marijuana is currently legal for medical use in 33 states and can be used legally for recreational purposes in 11, with the possibility that there will be additional states that will legalize weed by 2020's end. On a federal level, however, it remains illegal and is listed as a Schedule I narcotic. The federal government considers Schedule I drugs to be, "drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse." Other Schedule I narcotics include far more dangerous drugs like heroin and LSD. Marijuana's Schedule I label makes it very difficult to effectively research the plant and hinders access to traditional financing and banking options for those in the industry.
Joe Biden's views on cannabis have shifted dramatically during his tenure in public office. The senator from Delaware was a vocal proponent and driving force of the War on Drugs during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s. Here he is in 1989 responding to then-President George H.W. Bush's plan to escalate the drug war. Biden's opinion was that it was too weak. "Quite frankly, the president's plan is not tough enough, bold enough, or imaginative enough to meet the crisis at hand... (it) doesn't include enough police officers to catch the violent thugs, not enough prosecutors to convict them, not enough judges to sentence them, and not enough prison cells to put them away for a long time." He also spoke of holding every drug user accountable and called for harsher punishments for drug dealers. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Biden crafted legislation that fueled the surge of arrests and imprisonment - particularly in communities of People of Color - that helped create the massive prison system that currently holds over 2.3 million people behind bars.
Fast forward to 2020 and Biden is thankfully singing a tune that is quite different from the "tough on crime" persona he carefully developed during his early years in Congress.
He now says that no one should be imprisoned for the use of illegal drugs alone and that no one should be in jail because of cannabis use. While he wants to leave the legalization of weed up to the states, Biden plans to decriminalize the use of cannabis on a federal level and expunge all prior marijuana use convictions without excessive litigation. He would also move cannabis to a Schedule II narcotic to allow researchers to better study its properties.
Like Biden, Trump's views on cannabis have changed dramatically over the years. Unlike Biden, the Trump marijuana stance remains erratic and is difficult to pin down. In 1990, he claimed that the drug war was a joke and said that all drugs should be legalized. So, will Trump legalize marijuana? No. During his 2016 campaign, he said he was "in favor of medical marijuana 100%." Once elected, however, his appointment of staunch marijuana critic Jeff Sessions to head the Department of Justice (DOJ) undermined his earlier statements. During the past four years, he has stayed relatively quiet on the issue but that could easily change if he feels that his popularity would benefit from an aggressive anti-cannabis stance. In fact, another four years of a Trump presidency could be troubling for medical marijuana states.
Trump's 2021 budget proposal is alarming. It would remove the protection that states enjoy in order to run medical marijuana programs. Currently, no federal funds can be used to prosecute state programs. This effectively prevents the DOJ from interfering with programs run at the state level. The 2021 budget proposal removes this key point and if passed, federal law enforcement officials could interfere with state-legal medical cannabis programs. In other words, if Trump wants to act, he will have the ability to do so. The recent response on Twitter by Trump's Chief of Staff Mark Meadows regarding the relaxation of federal marijuana laws is telling: "Listen to White House Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows mockingly laugh when I ask if Trump plans to carry through on his promise to @CoryGardner to relax federal marijuana laws."
Although the Democrats and Republicans dominate our democracy, there are two additional parties that will have candidates on the ballot in November. Howie Hawkins is the presumptive Green Party nominee and he wants the federal government to "legalize adult-use under federal law and remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act so it can be used medically. It should remove restrictions on banks not being able to work with marijuana businesses." Hawkins has no chance of winning, but his plans read like they were written to make cannabis activists across the country drool. His plan is to repeal criminal laws for marijuana offenses, remove marijuana from the Schedules of the Controlled Substances Act so it can be used medically, and tax marijuana like any other commodity without a special marijuana tax.
Libertarians will also have one of their own on the ballot. Not surprisingly, Libertarians believe that the criminal justice system in this country is flawed and the party's 2020 candidate is no exception. The first woman to ever receive the Libertarian nomination, Joanne (Jo) Jorgensen, wants to end the "racist War on Drugs" and immediately release anyone serving time solely for drug offenses.
While some candidate's views may be complicated, the answer to "which presidential candidate supports legalization?" is clear - Biden, Hawkins and Jorgensen are the only ones. If you were to ask "which presidential candidate will legalize weed?" You'll have to vote and find out on November 3rd.
Who are you voting for this election? Why? Let us know in the comments below!