Cannabis Legalization and the 2020 Election
Where the Democratic candidates stand on cannabis
One hundred years ago, alcohol became illegal in the United States. Alcohol prohibition led to less alcohol being consumed, fewer deaths caused by cirrhosis, and fewer admissions to state mental hospitals for alcohol psychosis. Arrests for public drunkenness also declined along with rates of absenteeism. Unfortunately, prohibition also created a robust black market and helped proliferate organized criminal activity. Ultimately, personal liberty, the promise of new tax revenues, and the scourge of organized crime convinced political leaders that prohibition had failed that a state-regulated market for alcohol would prevail. Similarly, with cannabis, we are seeing early examples of state-regulated cannabis markets and ongoing indications that an end to federal cannabis prohibition as we have known it is closer at hand than perhaps at any point in history. Cannabis legalization has become a bi-partisan issue, but to the extent, the federal government will regulate medical or adult-use cannabis directly and how much they will leave up to the states remains to be seen.
As the number of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination shrink, we find they all share a commitment to reducing the penalties for using and possessing marijuana, which remains illegal at the federal level. Many of them support full legalization — as permitted in 11 states and the District of Columbia — while others prefer to see the federal government proceed more carefully by rescheduling cannabis from Schedule 1 or removing it altogether.
As a part of our commitment to education, we at Randy’s Club are providing you with a review of the position of the Democratic candidates, in alphabetical order, on cannabis legalization.
U. S. Senator Michael Bennett, of Colorado, is one of the sponsors of the Marijuana Justice Act, an ambitious U.S. Senate proposal aimed at overhauling the War on Drugs. The plan would end federal restrictions on cannabis research and automatically expunge federal convictions for marijuana use and possession offenses. The proposal would also create a community reinvestment fund to help communities hurt by the War on Drugs and encourage states to change their marijuana laws if they are found to disproportionately affect low-income people or minorities.
Senator Bennett has also pushed the Trump administration to help existing marijuana businesses gain access to banking systems and has strongly advocated for hemp as a cash crop.
“As a former school superintendent in a state that has legalized marijuana, Michael is also focused on policies to ensure young people do not have access to it,” his campaign said in a statement.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has been the front runner and is arguably the highest-profile candidate who stops short of full legalization. Instead, he’s calling for decriminalization and rescheduling, criminal-record expungement, and increased research access. He wants to let states decide whether to legalize.
“Biden believes no one should be in jail because of cannabis use,” his campaign said in a statement.
Joe Biden is trying to tread a narrow path between younger voters who favor legalization and older voters who remember his years helping wage the War on Drugs.
“As president, he will decriminalize cannabis use and automatically expunge prior convictions. ” his campaign said in a statement. “And, he will support the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes, leave decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states, and reschedule cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts.”
Mayor Pete Buttigieg echos the successful policies in places like Portugal and the Netherlands. Mayor Buttigieg has called for the decriminalization of all drugs arguing the country needs to address the underlying causes of drug abuse and says that counseling, not convictions, is the proper approach.
“To ensure that people with a mental illness or substance use disorder can heal, we will decriminalize these conditions. When someone is undergoing a crisis or is caught using a drug, they should be treated by a health professional rather than punished in a jail cell,” he said in a statement.
Mayor Buttigieg calls for eliminating incarceration for drug possession, reducing sentences for other drug offenses, applying these reductions retroactively, and also expunging past convictions.
U.S. Representative John Delaney has supported some marijuana-related legislation in Congress. He represented Maryland in the House from 2013 through January 2020 but has not made it a major campaign platform. He has supported, in particular, proposals to permit veterans to use medical marijuana as part of their official care and has also supported banking reforms.
His campaign says he supports rescheduling marijuana and wants to “create strong federal guidelines and taxation policies to support decisions at the state level.”
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, has not spoken widely about marijuana as a campaign issue. However, in a brief statement, her campaign said she “supports decriminalization and legalization” but did not offer any details about the specifics.
Senator Klobuchar has questioned the Trump administration over a potential crackdown on state-legal marijuana programs and has co-sponsored legislation aimed at protecting state-level legalization. She also supports criminal-justice reform to reduce mass incarceration.
Senator Bernie Sanders is one of the sponsors of the Marijuana Justice Act, an ambitious U.S. Senate proposal aimed at righting the wrongs of the War on Drugs. The plan would end the federal restrictions on cannabis research and automatically expunge federal convictions for marijuana use and possession offenses.
As a candidate for president, Senator Sanders has tied marijuana legalization to the greater need for criminal justice reform.
Tom Steyer, a billionaire investor, and philanthropist has said little about marijuana legalization. In an August interview with the Las Vegas Sun, Mr. Steyer said he supports marijuana legalization and noted that he can’t invest in cannabis businesses because it remains federally illegal.
Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is another sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act, an ambitious U.S. Senate proposal aimed at righting the wrongs of the War on Drugs. Warren ties marijuana decriminalization and legalization to a broader need for criminal justice reform.
“It’s not equal justice when a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s not equal justice when, for the same crimes, African Americans are more likely than whites to be arrested, more likely to be charged, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to be sentenced,” she said in a statement. “We need criminal justice reform and we need it now. That means ending racial disparities in our justice system. It means banning private prisons. It means embracing community policing and demilitarizing our local police forces. It means comprehensive sentencing reform and rewriting our laws to decriminalize marijuana.”
Andrew Yang, a tech entrepreneur, and philanthropist calls for federal legalization after noting that 11 states already permit recreational cannabis. In a statement, he noted that marijuana is widely accepted as safer than some prescription painkillers.
“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 non-violent marijuana-related offenses,” he said.
Every Democratic candidate for President of the United States believes that cannabis prohibition as we’ve known it must end. They vary to the degree in which they would legalize it and particularly to the degree in which they would right the wrongs caused by cannabis prohibition. Regardless of who wins the election in November, the next 4 years are likely going to see major changes in our nation's drug control policies, specifically relating to cannabis policy. We at Randy’s Club haven’t picked a candidate to support but agree with Democratic candidates who believe that cannabis prohibition must end and that the harms it caused must be remedied. Whoever you vote for in the primary or in the general election, we at Randy’s Club encourage you to vote and be counted.