The chatter of cannabis has grown a little louder on the U.S. campaign trail this season.
The leading third-party candidates have called for full marijuana legalization, while the nominees for the Democratic and Republican parties have broached the topic more frequently — now that half of the nation has medical marijuana laws in place, a handful of states have gone recreational and several others will have cannabis-related ballot initiatives this November.
“It has the capacity to become a very important issue,” said Andrew Schnackenberg, an assistant professor of strategic management at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. “It is a hotbed issue still, and you have at least two of the (presidential campaigns) on the record in favor of legalization, which pushes the debate into an interesting direction for the other two candidates (Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton).”
But just how prominent the topic may become this election likely will depend on whether the pro-legalization, third-party campaigns of Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein successfully make it to the debate stage, said Paul Seaborn, an assistant professor in the Daniels College of Business’ Department of Management.
Seaborn said he is doubtful that marijuana will play a direct role in the presidential election.
“Both Trump and Clinton seem to have little to gain from taking a strong position on either side of federal rescheduling or legalization, and so far have mostly avoided doing so,” he wrote in an email to The Cannabist. “I can see them being asked about this in the upcoming debates; but without Johnson or Stein participating to push the issue, I think they will continue to downplay the topic.”
Indirectly, however, the number of state ballot measures about marijuana could influence voter turnout and thus may impact the presidential vote in certain states, he said.
Here’s a rundown of where the respective tickets — listed in no particular order — stand on the topic of cannabis.
The campaigns have been contacted with requests for interviews; but as of Wednesday, no interviews have been scheduled. This post will be updated as necessary.
Hillary Clinton has been keen on watching and waiting to see what happens in states that have gone the legalization route, Schackenberg said.
During a CNN Town Hall in 2014, Clinton advocated for additional research on medical marijuana.
“I think for people who are in extreme medical conditions and have anecdotal evidence that it works, there should be availability under appropriate circumstances,” she said at the time. “But I do think we need more research because we don’t know how it interacts with other drugs.”
To Clinton, the jury’s still out on recreational.
“States are the laboratories of democracy,” she said. “We have at least two states (Colorado and Washington) that are experimenting with that right now. I want to wait and see what the evidence is.”
She has reiterated those positions during the October 2015 Democratic debate and earlier this year on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Marijuana is one of the issues highlighted under “criminal justice reform” on Clinton’s campaign site, which says she will reschedule cannabis if elected:
Focusing federal enforcement resources on violent crime, not simple marijuana possession. Marijuana arrests, including for simple possession, account for a large number of drug arrests. Significant racial disparities exist in marijuana enforcement—black men are significantly more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts, despite the fact that their usage rates are similar. Hillary will allow states that have enacted marijuana laws to act as laboratories of democracy and reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance.
Clinton’s campaign reiterated those rescheduling positions when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration this month opted to keep marijuana as a Schedule I substance.
Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., has expressed support for states’ rights and changes to some sentencing laws, but hasn’t backed legalization or decriminalization on the state or federal level, Marijuana.com reported in July, noting an interview with WMRA radio in Virginia, a speech at a Virginia high school, and a Senate hearing on May 26.
The Democratic Party recently endorsed a “reasoned pathway to future legalization” and a rescheduling of marijuana out of Schedule I.
Clinton has said she has never smoked marijuana.
“I didn’t do it when I was young,” she said in 2014 during the CNN Town Hall. “I’m not going to start now.”
In 1990, businessman Donald Trump stated he was infavor of legalizing all drugs, but the Republican nominee has reined in that stance in recent years. During debates and rallies in recent months, Trump backed medical marijuana and said he favored leaving recreational legalization up to the states; however, he expressed doubt about how things were playing out in states such as Colorado, according to The Washington Post:
“And of course you have Colorado,” Trump said. “And I love Colorado and the people are great, but there’s a question as to how it’s all working out there, you know? That’s not going exactly trouble-free. So I really think that we should study Colorado, see what’s happening.”
Although Trump leans toward states’ rights, he also surrounds himself with individuals such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who are “staunch prohibitionists,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy and lobby group.
“Should Mr. Trump win the election, that would be a cause for concern (if Christie were named Attorney General),” Capecchi said. “But I’m still skeptical about the ability of an administration — regardless of how personally they are against reform — could really put the kibosh (on the legal marijuana market).”
When in Colorado in early August, Trump said in an interview with 9News reporter Brandon Rittimanthat he would not support the shutdown of existing marijuana markets:
Rittiman: Chris Christie was one of the first sort of establishment guys to really jump in with both feet for you. He gets talked about as a possible AG pick, but he was also the only presidential candidate who was campaigning saying he would use federal authority to shut down sales of recreational marijuana in states like Colorado.
Trump: Yeah, I wouldn’t do it, no.
Rittiman: You wouldn’t let him?
Rittiman: Even if you picked him as AG?
Trump: Well you’re asking me. I wouldn’t do that, no.
Rittiman: You think Colorado should be able to do what it’s doing.
Trump: I think it’s up to the states, yeah. I’m a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.
Trump’s campaign site does not reference the businessman’s position on marijuana. His running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, has opposed legalization and said he viewed marijuana “as a gateway drug,” according to Howey Politics Indiana.
Gary Johnson has long been an advocate of legalizing marijuana. It was in 1999 when Johnson, then a Republican governor of New Mexico, vocalized support for decriminalizing drug use.
Marijuana legalization would become a “signature issue” for Johnson as the Libertarian Party nominee in 2012, The Atlantic wrote at the time:
Being pro-pot made Johnson an outcast in the Republican Party but also proved, to him anyway, that he can move politics in unconventional directions on the strength of his convictions. With an eye toward again wooing young and liberal voters, Johnson has made drug policy a centerpiece of his current campaign: In an ad that he hopes to air in select states (if he can raise the money), he calls attention to President Obama’s youthful pot habits. “What’s up, Mr. President?,” Johnson says in a voice-over. “It’s okay for you to do it, but everybody else should be arrested and go to jail?”
Johnson would later back marijuana in the private sector, taking the helm of Cannabis Sativa Inc., a developer of cannabis-infused products, because it was “a chance to change the world for the better.”
For his 2016 run, Johnson selected former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld as his running mate. Weld, a former federal prosecutor and a supporter of medical marijuana in the 1990s, has since evolved his views to support full legalization, according to The Boston Globe.
In July, Johnson sat down with the Chicago Tribune editorial board and said legalization may not be such a pipe dream — if California votes in favor of recreational use:
“When California does that in November, in my opinion, it’s no longer going to happen at the ballot box. I think that legislatures that are remaining all around the country embrace this and make it happen. That said, I think the American people then come to grips because of legalizing marijuana that this is a health issue. That it’s not a criminal justice issue and I think the whole country takes a quantum leap going forward and it starts with a basic recognition of health as opposed to being criminal. And the only thing we’re advocating legalizing is marijuana.”
Dr. Jill Stein, a Harvard-trained medical doctor and environmental activist, supports the legalization of marijuana and hemp across the United States and advocates for the treatment of substance abuse “as a public health problem, not a criminal problem.”
Like Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, Stein is viewed favorably by pro-pot organizations such as the Marijuana Policy Project, which gave both third-party candidates an “A+” rating on its presidential scorecard.
On her campaign website, Stein argues that marijuana is dangerous mainly because of its illegality:
As President, one of my first actions would be to order the (Drug Enforcement Administration) and the Justice Department to cease and desist all attempts to harass or prosecute medical marijuana clinics or other legitimate marijuana-related businesses that are operating under state laws.
I would also direct DEA to remove marijuana from Schedule I, the most dangerous category of drugs, and place it in a more appropriate category as determined by medical science. … Like Colorado, we can regulate marijuana in a similar way to alcohol once it’s legal.
This would prevent billions of dollars in profits from pouring into the black market, and would greatly reduce the violence associated with illegal marijuana sales, including the drug wars ravaging Mexico and Central America.
On a campaign video about legalization, Stein said that while she’s not personally a consumer of marijuana, she believes it’s not the government’s place to dictate to others that they cannot:
“Marijuana is a drug that is dangerous because it’s illegal. It’s not inherently dangerous itself. The president can instruct the (DEA) to do a really radical thing: to use science in determining what substances are and are not going to be scheduled. Because if science was being used, then marijuana, cannabis and hemp would be taken off of the list of scheduled substances in the blink of an eye.”
Stein last week selected human-rights activist Ajamu Baraka as her running mate. Baraka’s webpage does not address cannabis specifically and the “Issues” section redirects to Stein’s campaign page.