Where Do The 2020 Presidential Candidates Stand On Cannabis?
In what’s promising to be the most electric presidential election cycle in recent memory, several candidates have lined up to take their crack at the incumbent administration of President Donald J. Trump. Although several core issues reign supreme, marijuana legalization and decriminalization has rapidly evolved into an important ancillary topic.
Not only that, presidential candidates can no longer avoid or sidestep the cannabis question. According to a Reuters health report, one in seven American adults used marijuana in 2017. Thanks to the landmark Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (colloquially known as the 2018 Farm Bill) passed in late 2018, this figure has surely moved higher when including non-psychoactive cannabis products.
And depending on the geographic clustering of the cannabis-using demographic, this group could potentially make or break any presidential hopeful’s chances of winning the White House. Therefore, if marijuana doesn’t make an impact in 2020 – which we highly doubt – it will surely do so in future election years.
That said, because of the diversity in the candidate pool, many of them have varying opinions on marijuana legalization. Below, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of leading candidates from the Democratic, Republican and Independent parties. We hope that you can reference this guide to make informed choices if botanical freedoms ranks highly in your voting preferences.
Leading Candidates for the Democrats
Former Vice President Joe Biden would seem like a natural proponent of marijuana legalization. After all, he was former President Barack Obama’s right-hand man. And we all know that Obama has been more than candid about his experimentation with botanicals. In fact, he doubled down, stating bluntly, “When I was a kid, I inhaled…That was the point.”
However, Biden has been a contrarian on the issue of legalization relative to his Democratic peers. In 2010, the then VP stated that marijuana was a “gateway drug.” Further, he boldly proclaimed that it would be “a mistake” to legalize marijuana.
When called out in the current presidential race, Biden has backtracked his remarks. At best, though, he’s an unreliable partner in the legalization movement.
One of the most vocal supporters of sensible cannabis regulations, Senator Bernie Sanders – the loveable, “meme-able” crazy uncle type – also has one of the more cogent plans offered. Disclosing an ambitious plan to federally legalize marijuana within 100 days via executive action, Sanders also plans to unleash his proposal at 4:20pm Eastern. Nice!
Not only that, after the executive action, Sanders would push Congress to forward a bill that would “ensure permanent legalization of marijuana.” Clearly, Sanders (along with his Democratic peers) have been rocked by the conservative push in politics in recent years. Thus, such permanence would give cannabis connoisseurs a meaningful measure of security.
Going even further, Sanders supports revamping the criminal justice system as it relates to marijuana offenses. If you support botanical freedoms, he offers an enticing platform.
Taking the torch of progressivism from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Elizabeth Warren hopes to be the first woman to break the presidential glass ceiling. She has a great chance, eclipsing all other female candidates by a country mile and holding her own against the frontrunners. But how does Warren fare in terms of cannabis advocacy?
This is where the story gets a little murkier. Although Warren has supported marijuana legalization to an increasing degree, she hasn’t been the most vocal prior to 2016. At first, she supported medicinal cannabis but not broader (recreational) laws. To be fair, though, Warren represents an evolution in thought process – that’s a lot more than many politicians can say.
If she becomes President, Warren is likely to legalize marijuana at the federal level given her party’s support for such measures. Still, she is prone to political pressure so she remains somewhat of a work in progress.
Another trailblazer that’s making a substantive impact in the 2020 race, Pete Buttigieg, if he becomes President, would be the youngest and the nation’s first openly gay. As such, he resonates with many voters in the emerging generations. And to no one’s surprise, Buttigieg supports marijuana legalization, as well as criminal justice reform.
Despite his advocacy, though, Buttigieg has been comparatively quiet about cannabis. During his time as Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Buttigieg doesn’t appear to have signed legislation regarding marijuana. He did, however, sign an ordinance in 2017 that prohibited businesses in the city from selling and distributing synthetic cannabinoids. In his view, synthetic cannabinoids were much more harmful than natural cannabis.
If elected President, Buttigieg may have positive sentiment toward cannabis but may play it safe on the issue. Should the public overwhelmingly want legalization, he may capitulate. But the lack of substantive information on where he stands botanically is a mild risk factor.
A multi-billionaire that has essentially bought his way into the Democratic presidential race, billionaire Michael Bloomberg is arguably the most controversial candidate of the liberal party. Like Joe Biden, Bloomberg has been a critic of marijuana legalization. However, he has gone much further than Biden, labeling legalization as the “stupidest thing anybody has ever done.”
Such sentiment contrasts sharply with the other liberal candidates. Moreover, Bloomberg is absolutely no fan of vaping rights and privileges. In September, his company, Bloomberg Philanthropies, announced that it will spend $160 million over the course of three years to help initiate a flavored vape product ban.
If elected President, Bloomberg will surely be unwilling to roll out further botanical access. Based on his sharp and unrelenting rhetoric, a possibility exists that he would roll back the hard-earned rights that legalization advocates have fought for.
One of the female candidates making big waves is Senator Amy Klobuchar. Ranking well above several prominent politicians and industry leaders, Klobuchar’s resilience is not surprising. As a former County Attorney of Hennepin County, Minnesota, she adopted a no-nonsense approach to pursuing justice. In fact, Klobuchar was so aggressive that she earned praise from conservative institutions.
However, this history of putting people behind bars indicates to many that Klobuchar lacks the understanding of social and racial nuances, particularly behind the issue of incarceration for narcotics-related offenses. And as society evolved to a more progressive environment, Klobuchar’s tough-on-crime stance is more at home with the beliefs of incumbent President Donald Trump than it is with most fellow Democrats.
Admittedly, Klobuchar has gradually evolved her position. Early in 2019, she stated that she supported cannabis legalization. How much she has changed, though, remains a big question since she rarely discusses marijuana. Plus, her website doesn’t mention anything about botanical freedoms.
Commonly referred to as the most invigorating candidate in the 2020 race, Andrew Yang has zero political experience prior to his current campaign. Nevertheless, he’s made an impact, outlasting mayors, governors and senators on his way to inside the top ten Democratic candidates. Furthermore, he’s most well-known for his pledge of giving every American $1,000 a month.
While this may sound like welfare for all, Yang makes a convincing case that the technologically driven economy no longer works for the older paradigm. Unlike his more popular rivals, Yang appears the most grounded and genuinely sympathetic toward the needs of the American people. As such, he is a vocal supporter of marijuana legalization and decriminalizing statutes involving non-violent drug offenses.
Although a strong supporter of botanical rights, Yang’s key drawback is also his strength: the lack of political experience. As we all know, talk is cheap, and Yang has yet to prove his worth. Still, he demonstrates real promise.
If cannabis legalization is the only topic that you care about, Senator Cory Booker may very well turn out to be the best President of the United States. Of course, being POTUS involves much more than cannabis. However, as an increasingly important issue involving fundamental rights, politicians ignore the matter at their own risk. And Booker isn’t taking any chances, promoting legalization at seemingly every turn.
For instance, just as Booker was launching his presidential bid, he introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, which proposes to legalize marijuana nationwide. In addition to de-scheduling the maligned plant, the bill also offers financial incentives to states to loosen their cannabis restrictions. Better yet, several key Democrats, including Sanders, Warren, and Senator Kamala Harris (who dropped out of the race), co-sponsored the act.
Booker has a long history of supporting legalization, noting racial disparities in how law enforcement and judicial bodies prosecute cannabis violations. His main challenge, though, is to convince the American electorate that he has effective policies beyond botanical freedoms.
Representative Tulsi Gabbard cuts a controversial figure in the 2020 race for her anti-traditional take on many political issues. Currently, she irks several rank-and-file Democrats for her anti-foreign war policy. However, Gabbard has credibility in this regard, serving as a major in the Hawaiian Army National Guard. True to form, she’s also a strong advocate for marijuana reform and legalization.
Indeed, Gabbard stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Cory Booker regarding cannabis advocacy. On her campaign website, Gabbard states that “Our outdated policies on marijuana are turning everyday Americans into criminals, tearing apart families, and wasting huge amounts of taxpayer dollars to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate people for non-violent marijuana charges.”
No friend to Wall Street and Big Pharma, she blasted the hypocrisy of allowing pharmaceuticals to create mass harm to society while only low-level “drug” users face incarceration. It’s that kind of forceful rhetoric that has earned her legions of fans.
Furthermore, Gabbard has cosponsored a large number of cannabis-related bills. She walks the walk but like Booker, needs an electoral boost to stay relevant in this race.
Rounding out the top ten Democratic candidates is Julian Castro, a former Housing Secretary under President Obama. He also served as former Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, the city where he was born. Hailing from a border state, Castro’s focus on the campaign trail has been immigration reform. However, he has explicitly voiced support for full cannabis legalization.
In the latter half of October, Castro proposed his “First Chance Plan,” which seeks a preventative approach to the penal system. The former Housing Secretary also noted the racial disparities involved in marijuana laws, bringing to light the biased enforcement against at-risk minority youths. Just as importantly, Castro notes the familial and economic costs associated with laws targeting non-violent drug users.
However, like other lower polling Democrats, Julian Castro is struggling for traction. Moreover, his advocacy is more potential than fact due he not being able to cast votes in his government position.
Leading Candidates for the Republicans
Arguably the most controversial President in the modern era, Donald Trump has his fair share of critics. Indeed, it’s been that way since day one of his campaign following some outrageous comments that would have destroyed the chances of lesser politicians. Even with his impeachment, Trump remains undeterred, confidence about a second term.
Frankly, if the economy holds up, Trump might get his wishes, irrespective of the constant barrage of vitriol directed his way. Ultimately, the American people care about their wallet – and that, according to Andrew Yang, is how Trump got elected in the first place. Now, millions are obviously dreading the idea of a second term, but will be that bad for cannabis advocates?
The former real estate mogul and reality TV star may surprise some folks. After all, the landmark Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 occurred under his watch. Furthermore, cannabis legalization is a simple way to revitalize a steadily eroding agricultural industry.
More than likely, the impeachment of Donald Trump won’t mean anything. That’s because the Republicans control the Senate and they’re unlikely to break against party lines. But if the unthinkable happens, then the Vice President of the U.S. will finish out the remainder of Trump’s term. And that man is Mike Pence.
As you know, Pence is a devout Christian, which naturally colors his view of the world. And if you thought that Trump was about “law and order,” you should consider what a Pence presidency would look like. Consistently, the VP has opposed the legalization of marijuana, considering the plant a “gateway drug” to harder, more damaging narcotics.
If that wasn’t enough, Pence has questioned proposals that seek to reduce penalties for drug offenses, including “entry-level” offenses. That makes the VP incredibly tone deaf to the societal, cultural and racial nuances found in drug laws and especially enforcement.
Contrary to common assumption, the incumbent President is not always guaranteed his party’s nomination. That’s the rare situation we find ourselves in for the 2020 race. As a conservative radio show host and a former Congressman from Illinois, Joe Walsh has plenty of political credentials. While he likely won’t usurp Trump, he does provide an interesting counterpoint.
This is most evident in Walsh’s support for marijuana legalization. Typically, you wouldn’t assume that a Republican would support botanical freedoms. However, Walsh repeatedly criticized attempts at cannabis prohibition during his time in Congress. Furthermore, Walsh is savvy with social media, blitzing the blogosphere with pro-cannabis talking points along with his support for marijuana reform.
Where Walsh gets into trouble is that he’s a little bit too much like Trump. Although Walsh has shifted from his support of the President, he’s guilty of some controversial statements. Combined with the fact that Trump has ravenous support from his core base, we shouldn’t expect too much from Joe Walsh.
William F. Weld
A libertarian at heart, William F. Weld served as Governor of Massachusetts throughout most of the 1990s. He’s also well known among the current generation of American youth for being a Vice Presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party in 2016. Yet in that election cycle, independent voices failed to spark much momentum due to the increasingly heated discourse between Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Nevertheless, Weld is putting his name on the ballot, this time for the Republican nominee for President of the U.S. Out of his library of policy proposals, Weld is perhaps most known (or notorious) for his marijuana legalization advocacy. Furthermore, Weld isn’t just paying lip service to the botanical crowd: he actually sits on the board of directors for Acreage Holdings, a seed-to-sale cannabis company.
For proponents and connoisseurs of the green arts, Weld presents an interesting case. He actually lives the cannabis life, which makes him a natural ally. However, Weld simply lacks mainstream support, which has also impacted other independent candidates.
Leading Candidates for Independents
One of the few independent voices to officially make waves, former coal mining executive Don Blankenship put his name in the hat for the Constitution party’s nomination for the presidency. As a faith-based conservative organization focused largely on tax reformation and government deregulation, it doesn’t spend too much time on cannabis legalization.
However, the Constitution party often gets an undeserved rap for its conservative stance. Notable members have supported de-criminalization of marijuana, primarily due to the failed war on drug’s negative fiscal impact. Presumably, Blankenship will tow a similar line, although his views on the matter are unclear at this time.
Still, it’s a moot point. Unless we see an Act of God, Blankenship has a slim chance of becoming President. He may not even secure the Constitution party’s nomination. Blankenship spent one year in prison after prosecutors found him guilty of ignoring safety hazards in his company’s coal mine, leading to 29 deaths. He’s unrepentant, making his candidacy untenable.
Representative from Illinois Justin Amash has yet to announce his presidential run, instead choosing to leave that option open. As such, it’s not completely accurate to include his name in this list. However, potential candidates to run on the independent ticket have dried up over the past few months, leaving very little viable candidates. Therefore, Amash could make third-party waves if he were to run.
Should he do so, Amash would offer botanical users a sensible approach to marijuana regulation. The Congressman generated headlines in July of 2019 when he split with the Republican party over calling for President Trump’s impeachment. A little bit later, he filed a bill that proposed allowing states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal government interference.
Additionally, Amash has aligned with Representative Gabbard for forwarding initiatives for eliminating federal involvement in cannabis prohibition. As Gabbard stated, nearly 91% of people arrested for marijuana law violations were charged with a crime. However, Amash may lack the voter base and credibility to break substantively into the mainstream.