The green debate
Whether Democrat or Republican, federal legalization—and who backs it—is a hot topic during the 2020 election
The Democratic field for president has drastically narrowed with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders the remaining contenders for the chance to go against incumbent President Donald Trump. With numerous issues to compare, SN&R focuses on the presidential candidates’ stances on cannabis legalization.
Since 1970, cannabis has been classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, next to harmful narcotics such as heroin and methamphetamine, despite widespread acceptance of cannabis, especially medicinally, and its thriving industry and culture. Such a classification defines cannabis, according to federal law, as having no medicinal purpose or benefits and subject to illicit use or abuse. Research and studies have since proven this untrue, yet it remains illegal on the federal level.
Politicians have come a long way since “just say no” and are now embracing progressive stances, including full legalization. Here’s where the 2020 presidential candidates stand on cannabis.
Of the major Democratic candidates still in contention, Biden is the only one who does not have his stance on marijuana nor its possible legalization on his website. His stance has very much been status quo in the past with his opposition to legalization being well known. Biden was vice president in an Obama administration that chose not to pursue legalization on the federal level.
He has reiterated in multiple debates that he has no intention of legalizing marijuana and still argues that it may be a gateway to harder drugs despite research proving the contrary. Biden’s stance is quite unpopular. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, 67% of Americans support marijuana legalization with a whopping 91% supporting its use medicinally—something for Biden to consider should he become the nominee.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who suspended her campaign on March 19 and endorsed Biden, has spent a lot of her time in Congress fighting for cannabis reform. She introduced two bipartisan cannabis bills—the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2019 and Marijuana Data Collection Act of 2019—and co-sponsored numerous others.
Gabbard has frequently referred to current marijuana laws as “archaic” and supports efforts to fully decriminalize the plant, allow physicians to prescribe marijuana as a medicine to veterans and more. Although it seems her presidential hopes are over this election season, she has a consistent track record of advocating for cannabis reform.
It’s no secret that Sanders has long been in favor of marijuana legalization with his current vision being more progressive than any candidate in history. Prior to running for president, Sanders was introducing medical marijuana legislation in the U.S. House. In 2015, he filed the first-ever Senate bill to end the federal prohibition on cannabis. A year later, he became the first major presidential candidate to come out in support of marijuana legalization.
Now, his stance includes expunging all marijuana-related convictions and ensuring that communities most affected by what he calls “ridiculous” marijuana laws will be the ones to benefit from its legalization. Should he become the Democratic nominee and win the presidency in November, Sanders vows to sign an executive order to legalize marijuana in his first 100 days in the White House.
Donald J. Trump
Trump once advocated the legalization of marijuana years before he became president. After nearly four years in office, however, Trump’s stance on marijuana and legalization has been fairly conservative. With a Republican majority in his first two years in office, marijuana remained a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Democrats regained control of the House in 2018 and have passed numerous cannabis reform bills, including a legalization bill that would remove it from Schedule1; all sit untouched in Mitch McConnell’s Republican Senate.
Though the Trump administration has mostly maintained that it would let the states decide the fate of legalization, Trump has since veered in his most recent budget proposal, slashing state medical cannabis protections. This isn’t the first time Trump has tried to remove these protections, however. Congress has been in agreement on its necessity and is likely to reintroduce them for Senate approval again.
Unbeknownst to many, Trump had a competitor in the Republican primary. Bill Weld, a former two-term governor of Massachusetts who suspended his campaign on March 18, calls himself as a traditional Republican. He served as assistant counsel during Watergate and assistant U.S. Attorney General for the criminal division under President Ronald Reagan. Weld has also been at the forefront of social issues in Massachusetts, including LGBTQ+ rights.
He has supported the legalization of medical marijuana since 1992 and aided the effort to legalize recreational cannabis use in Massachusetts in 2016. It states on his campaign site that Weld favors immediate descheduling of cannabis as a Schedule 1 narcotic and cites research in Israel that proves that cannabis can have positive outcomes on diseases including Parkinson’s, cancer and multiple sclerosis.