Buckle up, cannabis fans! This year is going to feature numerous political races and ballot decisions, from the state level all the way to the White House. While cannabis isn’t as much of a hot-button issue, as say, public health or immigration, the 2020 elections will likely have an effect on the future of the legal cannabis industry in several states, perhaps even national policy.
Illinois joined the list of states that allow recreational marijuana on Jan. 1, bringing the total to 11 states plus Washington, D.C., that allow recreational/adult-use marijuana sales and possession. These states, along with 18 others, have also legalized marijuana for medical use.
Some states considering adding to or expanding their marijuana marketplaces this year include Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and South Dakota.
Cannabis advocates in states like Idaho, Ohio and Florida are currently collecting signatures for ballot initiatives to legalize cannabis for medical purposes. Other states are discussing possible changes through legislation instead of at the voter level.
At the national level, cannabis opinions of presidential hopefuls provide different distinctions and hopefully appeal to constituents ranging from wanting full freedom to greater crack-downs.
Here’s how the current candidates stack up:
Republican challenger Bill Weld supports medical and recreational use of marijuana. Republican candidates who have left the race, Mark Sanford and Joe Walsh, also were cannabis supporters.
Incumbent Donald Trump seems likely to win the Republican nomination, but has consistently provided mixed messages around cannabis before and after being a candidate. He has spoken out in the past in support of medical marijuana. While he hasn’t directly supported recreational use, he has backed states being allowed to legalize marijuana without federal interference. He also signed the 2018 Farm Bill which legalized hemp at a federal level.
The candidates vying to be the Democratic nominee for president (as of writing in mid-March) also have different plans for cannabis.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermot, supports greater legalization and is a longtime cannabis advocate. His push for policy reform goes back to 1995 when he signed a bill to legalize marijuana’s medical use. If elected, he has pledged to take executive action to legalize cannabis nationwide.
Former Vice President Biden has not endorsed cannabis legalization in any form. As a huge proponent of the War on Drugs while in the Senate, he has voted for stricter drug legislation. He would like marijuana to remain a misdemeanor. Since entering into the presidential race, he has softened his stance and introduced a reform plan that would decriminalize marijuana.
Former Democrat presidential contenders were also divided in seeking changes or updates to cannabis laws. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts supported federal legalization and voted to protect states with marijuana markets and to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act. Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., promoted legalization of marijuana and supported decimalizing of all drugs in his first term as president. Tom Steyer supported legalization, including rules to allow banks to finance marijuana businesses. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii has pushed for cannabis reform since 2013 and supports both medical and recreational use. She would like to see marijuana decimalized under federal law, it removed from the Controlled Substance Act, and protect states that have or will legalize its use.
Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg is not in favor of federal legalization of marijuana, but after declaring his run for the presidency, he promoted a reform plan that will decriminalize it and allow states the right to decide. Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar voiced her opposition to legalize marijuana when running for Hennepin County attorney in 1998. In recent years, she has backed the ability for states to freely legalize marijuana and encouraged cannabis research.
Regardless of the outcome of state ballots and the presidential election this year, the Democrat- controlled House will likely continue to work towards expanding access to medical marijuana as well as easing tax burdens and banking restrictions for cannabis businesses. But with the Republican-controlled Senate blocking much legislation, it’s unlikely these efforts will gain much traction at the federal level in 2020.
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