Recent polling consistently finds that the majority of Americans believe that the U.S. should adopt a more liberal approach to cannabis policy. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 54 percent of registered voters nationwide were supportive of cannabis legalization.
The legalization issue is made all the more salient because of the presidential campaign currently underway. The next president—likely to be either Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or Republican nominee Donald Trump—could have an enormous impact on cannabis policy by either undoing or expanding upon existing cannabis laws.
It remains to be seen how the next president will approach the issue, but it is seen as unlikely that he or she will preside over a significant rollback of existing cannabis laws. Part of the reason is because of the current level of public support.
“It would be hard for future administrations to undo this progress,” said Robert Capecchi, the director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, in an email to MERRY JANE. “Marijuana reform is favored by both Democrats and Republicans.”
At first glance, there are a number of similarities between the major party candidates on the cannabis issue. Both Clinton and Trump have expressed support for a regime in which the federal government defers to state law on the cannabis issue.
However, when you move beyond what the candidates have said and begin to get into the detail, a picture emerges of which candidate is likely to be a greater supporter of cannabis legalization. Clinton, for her part, has expressed an openness to expanding cannabis access on both the recreational and medicinal levels, and even expressed a willingness for federal rescheduling of the substance.
“Her focus is on medical research and a continued hands-off approach to functional, regulated state systems,” says John Hudak, the deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution and author of a widely-circulated open letter to Clinton and Trump on the future of cannabis policy, in an email to MERRY JANE. “Clinton has also spoken openly about the criminal justice implications of previous administrations’ marijuana policies, suggesting that she sees the issue as a deeper public policy challenge for the next president.”
Trump, on the other hand, appears to be a mixed bag. The presumptive GOP standard-bearer has surrounded himself with opponents of cannabis expansion—most notably his VP choice, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and billionaire Sheldon Adelson—who could push for a rollback of cannabis legalization within or without a Trump administration.
“A President Trump could bring with him an Attorney General Chris Christie, who is on record as saying he’d ramp up federal enforcement against state legal actions in Colorado, so it is possible to have progress halted or undone,” says Capecchi.
Hudak agrees, stating that the president is not solely responsible for the proposition and implementation of public policy.
“Some of his closer advisers have been skeptical or hostile to marijuana reform,” says Hudak. “Policy comes from the president, but it also comes as a result of conversations with advisers, making a hypothetical President Trump’s marijuana policy largely unknown.”
Only time will tell what effect the next president will have on cannabis policy. Yet as the campaign evolves, it is becoming more clear where the candidates stand on the issue—and what the outcomes may be of their proposals.