The cannabis industry has benefitted from the Obama administration’s stance to allow the states to experiment with cannabis reform. They have taken a somewhat forward thinking approach, which includes discussions of reclassifying cannabis away from a Schedule I Controlled Substance, which means it has no formal accepted medical use.
Now, the arduous process of electing a new president is picking up speed and the cannabis industry is paying close attention to the up and coming candidates. Public opinion about cannabis has shifted drastically, but many politicians are slow to follow.
A number of Democratic candidates have thrown their hats in the ring, including former governor of Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee, who signed the state’s decriminalization law in 2013, and Jim Webb who believes in decriminalization and is against the War on Drugs. But, there are only two current frontrunners: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. These two candidates have very different approaches to the election and seemingly different ideas about cannabis.
Politicians may try to avoid discussing cannabis, but many Americans want to know where the presidential candidates stand on the issue.
Clinton has not taken a definitive stance on cannabis yet, but has given the impression she would allow states to continue their path on legalization and decriminalization without much interference.
“States are the laboratory of democracy,” Clinton told CNN while discussing legalization in Washington and Colorado. “I want to wait and see what the evidence is.”
Although Colorado has shown that legalization works and two more states, Oregon and Alaska, have passed legalization initiatives since her statements, Clinton has not expanded publicly on her stance.
Clinton’s history on cannabis reform has been shaky at best. In 2007, she was reluctant to support the idea of decriminalization, saying more research needed to be done. In 2012, she said she believed that legalization was not the answer to ending the War on Drugs.
“I think when you’ve got ruthless vicious people who have made money one way and it’s somehow blocked, they’ll figure out another way…they’ll do kidnapping they’ll do extortion,” she said.
Sanders has a more progressive stance on cannabis and even admits trying it a couple of times when he was young. “I’m going to look at the issue. It’s not that I support it or don’t support it. To me it is not one of the major issues facing this country. I’ll look at it. I think it has a lot of support and I’ll be talking to young people and others about the issues," Sanders told Time magazine.
Sanders’ statement that cannabis is not a major issue may not be as passive as it sounds. He has used the cannabis issue to shift the discussion over to prison reform [link to Mandatory Minimum article], an important issue in his campaign.
That may mean that Sanders, unofficially, will take the stance of support, but he may not make it a focus of his campaign unless pressured by activist groups.
Because he is a progressive, there is hope he could be a leader on the issue. He is not against it, but for progressives who believe cannabis is a major issue for them, they may be disappointed that it is not as important to Sanders.
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There is still a long road ahead on the presidential race. With more Democrats coming into the spotlight through debates and shifts in important issues, there will undoubtedly be more discussion on cannabis decriminalization and legalization. Whether or not there will be a definite answer on where the candidates stand on the issue will likely only become clear if voters force the discussion.