Cannabis Legalization & The Presidential Campaign: How They Overlap

Katelin EdwardsRegulatory NewsLeave a Comment

marijuana legalization

The 2020 presidential campaign will be a competitive one, with President Donald Trump running for re-election and 535 other candidates (as of February 19, 2019) running against him. Major issues that candidates will be running on include the economy, immigration policy, healthcare, climate change … the usual. But as I read through endless articles about the 2020 presidential race, one particular campaign issue keeps popping up: cannabis legalization.

Is cannabis legalization going to be the top issue candidates run on? Will it be what a candidate needs to win the primary and even the general election? No, probably not. But in a primary race where candidates are fighting to set themselves apart, advocating for cannabis legalization may be an option for doing so.

With polls showing that two out of three Americans support cannabis legalization, it is a no-brainer to run on this issue. The 2018 midterm elections proved this to be true, when a record number of gubernatorial candidates embraced the issue. The data gathered in the 2018 midterms will help us predict what we can expect to see from presidential candidates in 2020. Aside from polls and data from 2018, we can also look at candidates’ voting records regarding cannabis legislation.

Let’s take a look at some of the more prominent candidates’ current stances on cannabis legalization, including their bill sponsorships.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)

  • From a cannabis-friendly state;
  • Sponsored the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017, which proposed to remove marijuana from being included as a Schedule I substance, eliminate criminal penalties for those handling marijuana, expunge convictions for marijuana use or possession, amongst other progressive elements;
  • Championed the CARERS Act of 2015, which would deschedule marijuana, protect states that have legalized medical marijuana from federal intervention, legalize industrial hemp, and promote the research of cannabis; and  
  • Decried the war on drugs from as far back as 2012, when he was mayor of Newark.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)


Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

  • From a cannabis-friendly state;
  • Sponsored the STATES Act, a bipartisan bill, released on June 7, 2017, that would recognize a state’s right to legalize cannabis and protect states with legal cannabis from federal intervention;
  • Co-sponsored the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017; and
  • Co-sponsored numerous other pieces of cannabis reform legislation, such as bills aimed at providing cannabis businesses access to banking.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)

  • From a cannabis-friendly state;
  • On her personal cannabis use, stated: “Half my family is from Jamaica; are you kidding me? And I did inhale.”
  • Co-sponsored the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017

Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY)


And let’s not forget, President Donald Trump   

  • Signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized industrial hemp;
  • Issued a signing statement on the medical marijuana provision of the most recent federal spending bill – seeking to strip the Department of Justice of funds used to interfere in the implementation of state medical marijuana laws – making clear that he will reserve the right to ignore the provision; and
  • Made a “solid commitment” to fix marijuana regulation according to then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).

Although President Trump’s cannabis agenda is unclear, it is clear that the most prominent of the current Democratic candidates are pro-pot as of now.

Cannabis is evolving into a mainstream political issue. If presidential candidates choose not to vocalize their opinions on it, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, it is highly likely they will be pressed about it in the interviews, political rallies, and debates to come.

In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, presidential candidates ran on the platform of a “war on drugs,” with cannabis being one of the main targets of this “war.” Now, only a couple of administrations later, presidential candidates are not only open to legalization, but are making cannabis reform a focal point of their campaigns.

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