Cannabis is one of the major topics of discussion in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. At the moment, the legislation around cannabis in the U.S. is still quite confusing. Most states legalised cannabis for medical use, and some legalised it for adult use or recreational consumption, but cannabis is still illegal at a federal level in the United States.
Let’s take a look at how cannabis is shaping the U.S. presidential election.
Why the U.S. presidential candidates use cannabis to win votes
Right now, cannabis is legal for medical purposes in 33 states and the District of Columbia. What’s more, 11 of those states have also legalised marijuana for adult-use or recreational consumption. So cannabis is legal in one way or another in most of the United States.
However, the current government has a neutral stance on cannabis issues.
President Donald Trump declared that he’s strongly against cannabis recreational legalisation back in 2015. Then, in 2016, he declared that he won’t enforce federal laws on cannabis and that states should pass their own cannabis laws.
Then, by signing the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, President Trump allowed U.S. farmers to grow, process and sell hemp, which enabled the cannabis industry to blossom and CBD to become one of the hottest wellness trends in the country.
That being said, the majority of U.S. adults are in favour of legalising cannabis on a federal level, which makes legalisation an important topic in the current presidential debate. A survey published in November 2019 showed that 67 percent of American adults are in favour of federal cannabis legalisation, and only 8 percent want it to be illegal for both medical and recreational purposes.
So, how are the leading U.S. presidential candidates leveraging cannabis to win votes in the 2020 election?
Which stance do the U.S. presidential candidates have on cannabis?
Donald Trump expressed his strong opinions on cannabis during his first presidential campaign, and he didn’t change his mind during his term.
Marc Lotter, President Trump’s director of strategic communications, said in an interview that the President is looking at drugs from the standpoint of a parent who wants to keep kids away from drugs. Lotter also said that the federal policy is to keep drugs illegal, even though many states have decided to take a different path.
At the moment, it seems that President Donald Trump will not take steps towards federal cannabis legalisation if he gets re-elected as president.
Joe Biden is a former vice president of the U.S. who was one of the leading Democratic drug warriors for decades. Biden was also part of the Judiciary Committee that shaped the drug policy which favoured scaremongering and criminalisation since the 1990s.
But Biden seems to have changed his mind in the meantime. During his 2020 campaign, Biden said that he supports the decriminalisation of cannabis and the expunging of criminal records for individuals with prior marijuana convictions. He also said that he doesn’t support federal legalisation but favours states passing their own cannabis laws.
However, in November 2019, Biden stated that cannabis may be a gateway drug to other, more dangerous, drugs. That remark attracted a lot of criticism. During the presidential debates, the former candidate Cory Booker even accused Biden of being high when he made it.
In January 2020, Biden said he opposes cannabis legalization without more studies into its benefits. At the same time, the presidential candidate also said his administration will not send people who have drug problems to prison but will send them to rehabilitation instead.
Given Joe Biden’s firm stance on cannabis legislation, it seems unlikely that legalisation will be an issue he will be tackling if he becomes the president of the U.S.
Senator Bernie Sanders was the first presidential candidate who endorsed cannabis legalisation during his run for the presidency in the last elections. He also proposed the first-ever bill to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act in 2015.
Sanders remains an avid supporter of cannabis legalisation during his 2020 campaign. In October 2019, he released a marijuana reform plan that outlines how he would legalise cannabis within 100 days of him starting his administration.
However, Sanders took things a step further in February 2020, when he said he would make cannabis federally legal across the U.S. on his first day as president. Sanders believes the government should expunge past cannabis convictions and reinvest the revenue made from legal cannabis in the African American, Latino and Native American communities that were affected by the War on Drugs.
Sanders also said that his administration would ban tobacco companies from joining the legal cannabis industry, thus helping small businesses control the legal market instead of big corporations.
It’s probably safe to assume that Bernie Sanders will legalise cannabis if he gets elected as president in November.
Senator Elizabeth Warren is seen as a champion for modernising cannabis laws, but that wasn’t always the case. In 2016, Warren declined to endorse the legalisation of cannabis in her home state of Massachusetts.
But during her 2020 presidential campaign, Warren vowed to make dramatic changes to the federal drug laws and protect legal cannabis markets.
Even though Warren didn’t offer many specifics, she said that her administration would remove cannabis from the list of banned substances and protect veterans who want to work in the marijuana industry. She also plans to scrap past cannabis convictions and to offer prior convicts advantages if they want to work in the legal marijuana industry.
Just like Sanders, Warren also calls for regulations that would prevent tobacco corporations to dominate the legal cannabis industry. She wants to make the industry competitive by preserving market access and banning major corporate investments.
Elizabeth Warren is a strong supporter of cannabis legislation, so her administration would most likely pursue legalisation during her term.
Michael Bloomberg is a billionaire and former New York City mayor who has a long history of opposing cannabis law reform. Bloomberg not only opposes legalisation, but he said that legalising cannabis is ‘one of the stupidest things anybody has ever done’ when the state of Colorado decided to legalise adult consumption.
However, Bloomberg seems to have changed his stance on cannabis in the last few years. During the 2020 presidential campaign, Bloomberg said that cannabis should be decriminalised and that states should pass their own cannabis laws. Moreover, in February 2020, he said that it’s ‘really dumb‘ to put people in jail for cannabis possession.
Now, this last remark attracted a lot of criticism, mainly because it contradicts Bloomberg’s previous statements and actions. During his time as mayor, Bloomberg was a fierce supporter of the police department’s stop-and-frisk program that would allow officers to detain and search people, which sharply increased the city’s cannabis arrest rate.
In the past, Michael Bloomberg also repeatedly stated that cannabis should be illegal and that the laws on drugs should be harsher, so it’s difficult to say whether his administration will actually decriminalise cannabis if he gets elected as president or if he is just pretending.
Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a strong supporter of cannabis legalisation and drug decriminalisation. Even though he didn’t sign a cannabis-related policy as mayor, Buttigieg expressed his views on drugs during his 2020 presidential campaign.
Buttigieg’s drug-related policies differ from those of the other candidates because they favour the legalisation of cannabis, the removal of criminal penalties for drug possession and reduced sentences for other drug offences. Buttigieg also said that veterans should be allowed to consume cannabis and that medical use of cannabis should be covered by health insurance.
Even though he didn’t offer a lot of specifics and doesn’t have a history of cannabis reform, Pete Buttigieg made cannabis legalisation and drug decriminalisation crucial parts of his campaign. As a result, he will most likely legalise cannabis if he gets elected as president.
Why cannabis will influence the 2020 U.S. election
Cannabis legalisation means more than being allowed to purchase and smoke cannabis legally. At the moment, many American citizens go to jail for cannabis possession, while others make fortunes from selling it in legal markets.
In 2018, more than 600,000 American citizens were arrested for marijuana possession. Minorities make up for 46.9 percent of the incarcerated population, despite the fact that they represent only 31.5 percent of the total U.S. population.
The legalisation of cannabis would be an important step towards stopping the War on Drugs started by President Nixon in the 1970s and would probably get a lot of those incarcerated for cannabis possession out of jail.
But the legalisation of cannabis in the U.S. would also have significant effects on the economy, the society and the global cannabis industry as a whole. So cannabis legalisation is a matter that should concern all American voters, whether they’re interested in using cannabis or not.