From cancelling student debt to legalizing cannabis, progressive politics has jumped front and center as candidates scramble to set themselves apart and win the hearts – and more importantly, votes – of the American people. The highly-congested field of 2020 Presidential hopefuls currently includes 23 Democrats and 2 Republicans who are canvassing the country sharing their platforms. For many, cannabis is top of mind and “high on their list.”
While Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support the legalization of cannabis, (69% vs 45%), 68% of independents support the plant. These numbers are (no pun intended) highly encouraging for Americans on both the business and medical sides of the fight.
The cannabis industry is booming with no signs of slowing. There is much at stake for consumers, businesses and the government alike, and politicians are paying attention. New Frontier Data, the leading authority in data analytics and business intelligence on the global cannabis industry, recently announced new economic data detailing the potential impact of legalization. If politicians weren’t paying attention before, they certainly are now.
New Frontier Data projects the federal legalization of medical and adult-use cannabis will create $86 billion in additional U.S. tax revenue between 2019 and 2025 and a $56 billion annual U.S. cannabis market by 2025.
Putting big business aside, American’s are no longer being shy about their desire for more natural alternatives, namely cannabis. Fifty years ago, legalization seemed like a pipe dream with only 12% of the country supporting legal cannabis. Fast forward to 2019, and support for legal cannabis has hit 61%, up from 57% two years ago, (General Social Survey).
Who are the leading candidates and where do they stand?
President Donald Trump (R) – Our current president, Donald Trump, has kept uncharacteristically quiet when it comes to the topic of cannabis. Analysts have suggested, however, that Trump could make cannabis legalization one of his key platforms in the 2020 election. According to Piper Jaffray analyst, Michael, Lavery, “By supporting cannabis, Trump may be able to incrementally broaden his appeal with swing voters without alienating his base.” Also, easing up on cannabis regulations could help President Trump gain much needed support from younger voters.
Governor William Weld (R) – The former Massachusetts Governor, Weld, is Trump’s only current challenger for the Republican nomination. While he now sits on the board of Acreage Holdings, Weld wasn’t always a cannabis advocate. In fact, he was President Reagan’s right-hand-man during the peak of “Just Say No”. Weld recently said, “I think (national legalization) is inevitable. I don’t think any politician is going to be able to stop it.
Vice President Joe Biden (D) – Biden is the only Democratic candidate who flat out opposes full-scale legalization. He is, however, in support of decriminalization. As The Fresh Toast so succinctly put it, “Biden’s marijuana views are stuck in 1989 – literally”. The former Vice President recently stood in front of a group of students and placed cannabis in the same company as cocaine and heroin. “Is it proper and legitimate for a government to take an action which we know expressly will lead to the mental and physical demise of an individual?” asked Biden. “I say no.”
Senator Bernie Sanders (D) – Sanders, Vermont Senator and one of the leading sponsors of the Marijuana Justice Act in Congress, is one of the most pro-cannabis candidates for 2020. Sanders has been a long-time supporter of legalization, pushing for ratification of the leaf decades ago. “Right now, marijuana is listed by the federal government as a Schedule I drug – meaning that it is considered to be as dangerous as heroin. That is absurd,” said Sanders.
While there are many other Democrats vying for the White House, a new POLITICO / Morning Consult poll shows Biden with the biggest lead over Trump. According to POLITICO, “It has Biden up 7 points over the president in a hypothetical general election matchup, 42 percent to 35 percent. Other than Bernie Sanders, who led Trump by 5 points, every other Democrat is either tied with the incumbent or trails him.”
Other cannabis-friendly Dems to watch.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) – The Massachusetts US Senator did not support her state’s adult-use cannabis bill in 2016, but has recently done an about-face on the issue. In the past two years, Warren has sponsored and supported an extensive range of cannabis reform bills, including the STATES Act, which is the leading bill to end federal prohibition. Warren states, “No one should go to jail for a joint. But more Americans are arrested for marijuana possession than all violent crimes combined.”
Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) – The current South Bend, Indiana, mayor has never formally challenged legalization while in office, but has become an advocate for putting an end to cannabis prohibition. Buttigieg will often reference racial injustice and the key role that prohibition plays in exacerbating that situation. “What are we going to do if we decide that it…doesn’t make sense to (incarcerate) for unbelievably long amounts of time for non-violent drug offenses?” He continued, “What are we going to do for the people we already did that to?”
Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D) – In some respects, cannabis reform and ultimate legalization may have inspired O’Rourke to run for President. In 2009, O’Rourke introduced a city council resolution calling for the end of cannabis prohibition and the beginning of an “honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition of narcotics.” At the time he stated, “We stand a better chance of keeping kids from using marijuana if it is sold by regulated businesses instead of by teenagers on street corners and middle school playgrounds.” O’Rourke has been consistently ahead of the curve on legalization, and according to an article in Leafly, “sees the War on Drugs for what it is – a dismal failure that corrupts institutions, incentivizes violence, fills prisons, wastes resources, decimates lives, and even whole communities, particularly among the poor and people of color, all while drugs remain readily available.”
Andrew Yang (D) – While Yang made universal basic income the centerpiece of his longshot presidential bid, as his campaign has gained momentum, so have his other policy proposals. Recently, the candidate unveiled a sweeping proposal to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and expunge federal convictions for cannabis possession and consumption. “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.” Yang said about cannabis legalization, saying the plant was, “A safer, less addictive means to manage pain for many Americans.”
Will 2020 be known as the year of cannabis liberation?
Back in 2008, many candidates stood on the platform of marriage equality, while in 2016, the Affordable Care Act was front and center. Will 2020 finally bring an end to cannabis prohibition?
Steven Hawkins, the executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, seems to think so. “Four years ago, no one would’ve thought that cannabis would emerge in any way in terms of a presidential debate. And here we are talking about it because this whole political landscape and public opinion has changed so dramatically.”
Others are not as optimistic. Newsweek recently interviewed John Hudak, deputy director at the Brookings Center for Effective Public Management, about the possibility of sweeping cannabis reform. “The reality is that public policy change rarely works that way. Slow and steady tends to be how change like this happens.” He continued, “There are of course watershed moments, but those are rare. 2019 has not been a watershed moment (for cannabis).”
Americans play wait-and-see.
No matter which side of the field you find yourself on, cannabis policy and reform has certainly interjected itself into the 2020 election cycle. Nearly every Democrat has addressed full-scale legalization, or at minimum decriminalization. Some have even proposed reversing past cannabis convictions and putting big spend behind the revitalization of communities that have been devastated by the war on drugs.
As for Biden, only time will tell if he decides to soften his stance.
Michael Collins, Director of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, is skeptical at best. “Fundamentally he’s (Biden) someone who cannot be trusted on this issue. I would not be confident that Joe Biden…would select somebody who would be open-minded on marijuana policy as Attorney General.”