President Trump has dozens of declared presidential candidates ready to take him on in 2020. Aspiring chief executives across the United States are deriving plans to attract primary voters. Some are using the issue of cannabis legalization to help voters sort through all the candidates. Once a liberals-only issue, times are changing: Now, Democrats, Republicans, and libertarians are having their say on it.
For example, Trump’s sole declared primary challenger, at least until now, former Governor of Massachusetts William Weld, is a libertarian who is very outspoken about his advocating legalization. By contrast, current Democratic frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, cannot understand why folks even want to legalize, having established himself as a fierce opponent back in the 1990s already.
So who thinks what of weed? We did the research, and this is what the five top candidates have to say:
1. Joe Biden
Joe Biden, the former Vice President and former U.S. Senator from Delaware, is an outspoken critic of legalization. Biden, also the former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has not changed his views in nearly three decades. Of all the 2020 Democratic candidates, he is the only one who remains expressly opposed to legalization at the federal level.
Biden supports the rescheduling of cannabis from its current Schedule II status in order to facilitate research. Back in 2010, he said, “There is a difference between sending someone to jail for a few ounces and legalizing it. The punishment should fit the crime, but I think legalization is a mistake. I still believe marijuana is a gateway drug.”
Then, in July this year, he decided to change his tune, likely noticing he was the only candidate, with the exception of Trump, who was still hindering the path of legalization. Sort of, anyway. According to Politico, his 10-page proposal for justice reform includes decriminalizing cannabis, funding prevention programs, reducing racial profiling, training inmates for jobs, and more.
2. Cory Booker
Cory Booker, the popular U.S. Senator from New Jersey, has been a longtime opponent of the “war on drugs.” He advocates cannabis reform very openly, even raising the bar on legalizing weed earlier this year by becoming chief sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act, a far-reaching and progressive plan for legalization. Until recently, his voice stood almost alone in his support for legalization and social justice.
Booker especially favors social equity programs designed to fix damage caused by the “war on drugs.” Recently, he had this to say about it, “I believe too many of my young people are being unfairly punished and chewed up by the criminal justice system over small amounts of marijuana. Their lives are being severely and adversely affected by the sheer number of arrests and incarcerations we are making.”
3. Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris, former attorney general and now U.S. Senator from California, is likely the candidate with the most dramatic change in her cannabis stance of any of the 2020 hopefuls. Not too long ago, she was scoffing at questions of legalization, speaking brazenly and openly about convicting drug dealers harshly in the state. Although it took her some time, she is now another sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act.
Harris is also the most outspoken of all the candidates about her own use, saying in 2017 that, “The war on drugs was a failure. It criminalized what is a public health matter, and it was a war on poor communities more than anything.” On July 22, Harris introduced the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or the MORE Act, to remove cannabis as a controlled substance.
Under the MORE proposal, federal courts would also have to expunge all previous marijuana-related convictions, as well as allow previous offenders to request criminal record expungement and, if necessary, even request hearings for resentencing. It also authorizes a five percent federal tax on cannabis, and seeks to ensure previous offenses “will have no adverse impact under immigration laws.”
4. Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders is likely the most pro-marijuana candidate in the entire 2020 presidential lineup. Unlike others in the race, the former U.S. Representative and Mayor of Burlington, and now U.S. Senator from Vermont, did not discover or change his views last month. He has been for the legalization of marijuana for 20 years now, becoming the first major party candidate to support weed during the 2016 election.
Sanders is also a leading sponsor of the progressive Marijuana Justice Act currently before Congress. He advocates for total legalization of the herb in all of its forms, saying in back in 2015 already that, “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.” Indeed.
5. Elizabeth Warren
The U.S. Senator from Massachusetts is another candidate to undergo significant changes in her views on cannabis. Elizabeth Warren did not support her state’s bill for adult-use cannabis back in 2016. Since then, her stance on the issue is decidedly different; she is currently endorsing and sponsoring a wide range of bills for cannabis reform, most notably the STATES Act to end prohibition at the federal level.
Despite wanting to convict and incarcerate people for marijuana-related “crimes” not too long ago, at the last election, in fact, Warren now has this to say, which she stated back in 2018, “No one should go to jail for a joint. But more Americans are arrested for marijuana possession than all violent crimes combined.” If Warren can do such an about-turn in such a short time, so can anyone.
What about Trump?
Current businessperson and U.S. President, Donald Trump is unclear about where he stands exactly on the legalization issue. He has made it clear that he believes individual states should determine their own laws for cannabis, but at the same time, he appointed Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, who is himself a fiercely against any cannabis reform whatsoever. Trump fell out with Sessions, but not over marijuana.
In fact, Trump sat by while Sessions’ moved to rescind the Cole Memorandum in early 2018, a move that would have removed state protection for cannabis activities. Recently, Trump’s administration rejected several bills to ease access to cannabis for veterans, at the same time blocking a bill to study its medical uses by those same veterans. These are Trump’s own words, “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that it should be a state issue, state-by-state. Marijuana is such a big thing.”
Regardless of your own stance on cannabis legalization, there is no denying that the issue is a progressive, hotly contested one. For those in need of urgent reform, such as patients and veterans, it is intensely personal, a basic human right, and for those who want recreational reform, nobody can deny the irrationality of criminal penalties for a proven safe, harmless, and healthy plant.
No matter where you stand, the issue of legalization is likely to sway primary voters toward or away from 2020’s presidential hopefuls. They are now voicing their views openly, even screaming them, in an attempt to attract voters, with many even changing their stance on legalizing weed in a complete about-turn over the last few months. Make your vote count, and use it wisely.