With the presidential election fast approaching, we find ourselves wondering why leading candidates of one of the country’s two most powerful parties are not addressing a pressing issue: marijuana legalization.
Historically, Republicans have never been on the greener side of the fence when it comes to cannabis; rather they support full criminalization of the drug. With polls indicating that a majority of Americans are in favour of federal legalization of cannabis in all forms, why aren’t they addressing this issue? As it turns out, it may not be in Republicans’ best interests or even necessary for them to do so. Republicans are known for advocating “states’” rights and it’s this belief that brings them to a divide on the issue of cannabis legalization. It can also be a calculated political move and one that saves the party from being viewed as completely anti-legalization, which they are at a federal level.
In order to understand why the topic isn’t being directly addressed, we first have to realize who’s representing the Republican party. Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz are some of the major names competing for the nomination this year. When the topic is approached, Bush and Cruz give similar, specific responses. They both claim to be in support of states being able to control whether marijuana is legalized, but criticize states for doing so. On the other hand, while some republicans are seemingly shifting views on this issue, Chris Christie continues to stand firm, vowing to not move an inch when it comes to any sort of cannabis reform.
Even though 53% of Americans are in favor of legalization, this statistic doesn’t really matter in a federal election if the Republicans win. While states may have the right to change their laws on marijuana, there will be little to no change at the federal level if Republicans form the government; if there is change, it may even be for the worse. This is why vaguely touching upon or even avoiding the topic completely is a well-calculated move by many Republican leaders; if you don’t agree with the majority, don’t have it as part of your campaign. By not having marijuana legalization as part of their platform and by not addressing it in a negative light, the Republican Party can still hold strong and come out on top before revealing their plans regarding the issue.
Chris Christie's bold stance on marijuana reform may be the view of just one party representative, but it brings up a larger issue regarding a party that ironically presents itself as so keen on “state” rights. If they don’t agree with what the state is doing, chances are they’ll intervene. While Republicans are quite focused on the individual, in certain cases candidates might feel that exercising their right as a federal leader is more important for the country overall. The New York Times breaks this down very well. It all depends on the issue at hand, and if that issue just so happens to be marijuana, the Republican leaders will likely exercise their power of federal enforcement and turn an established marijuana industry on its head. This power is of course known to the public, but by not addressing cannabis reform questions or vaguely discussing the issue, Republicans prevent this possibility from becoming a mainstream concern.
If marijuana reform is important to you, don’t let Republican presidential hopefuls convince you that they’ll leave it up to the state while actually planning to pull the strings from the White House. While those living in Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Colorado may have it good, this federal election is important as it can stall years of momentum that has been building towards reform. Federal laws can overpower state laws and if the Republicans form government, that power may be exercised. Get educated about each candidate before you vote because if the wrong one is elected, they may take America two giant steps back in marijuana reform.