Story by Michael Hagar
It has been over four decades since Oregon became the first state to decriminalize marijuana possession in 1973 and nearly two decades since California spearheaded the medical marijuana movement with the passage of California Proposition 215 and California Senate Bill 420 in 1996. On November 6, 2012, Colorado became the first state in America to legalize and fully regulate the recreational use of cannabis with the passage of Colorado Amendment 64. In the years after Colorado’s historic reformation, four other states, which include Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia, also passed legislation rendering recreational marijuana legal in their states. Now in the middle of 2016, in the midst of the presidential primary season, it is time for voters in the United States to once again consider where they and the remaining presidential candidates stand on recreational and medicinal marijuana legalization.
Donald Trump: Let’s begin with the presumptive Republican party presidential nominee, Donald Trump, whose positions have been, well, rather hard to pin down. On April 14, 1990, the Sarasota Herald Tribune celebrated their newspaper’s “Company of the Year Awards” with a luncheon where Trump cast his doubts on the War on Drugs, calling the efforts of the Drug Enforcement Agency “a joke.” He then went on to say, “We’re losing badly the war on drugs…. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.” The Herald also reported that Trump said, “Tax revenues from a legalized drug trade could be spent to educate the public on the dangers of drugs.”
However, fast forward to more recent times and you may find Trump changing his tune. On multiple occasions in 2015 Trump expressed a number of varying opinions on legalization. For example, in June 2015, while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), when pressed on his position regarding recreational marijuana, Trump responded, “I say it’s bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about it.” This is a rather abrupt change from his position in the 90s and, given the inconsistent nature of his responses to questions and the fact that we were unable to find any further details at www.donaldjtrump.com/positions, we’ll have to leave the determination of his actual positions to the interpretation of the voters.
Hillary Clinton: Hillary Clinton’s position on cannabis is very clear compared to that of Donald Trump. She has consistently expressed support of medicinal marijuana and is open to allowing experimentation in states that have voted to legalize cannabis. That being said, her platform does not advocate for the national legalization of recreational marijuana under the theory that states such as Colorado are serving as laboratories that we can learn from before making any major decisions on the subject. On the criminal justice reform page of her campaign, Clinton addresses our broken criminal justice system and how she plans to address it. Marijuana policy is indeed included within her plan, including:
Focus federal enforcement resources on violent crime, not simple marijuana possession. Marijuana arrests, including for simple possession, account for a huge number of drug arrests. Further, significant racial disparities exist in marijuana enforcement, with black people significantly more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts, even though usage rates are similar. Hillary believes we need an approach to marijuana that includes:
Allowing states that have enacted marijuana laws to act as laboratories of democracy, as long as they adhere to certain federal priorities such as not selling to minors, preventing intoxicated driving, and keeping organized crime out of the industry.
Rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance. Hillary supports medical marijuana and would reschedule marijuana to advance research into its health benefits.
To learn more about Hillary Clinton’s platform on criminal justice and marijuana reform you can visit her campaign website at www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/criminal-justice-reform/
Bernie Sanders: Out of all the presidential candidates, democratic contender Bernie Sanders may have one of the clearest and most progressive views on marijuana legalization. In 2015 the senator from Vermont introduced the first and only comprehensive marijuana reform bill to the US Senate and, despite garnering no support, Sanders continues to fight for change. In an impassioned speech on October 28, 2015, Sanders addressed a large crowd with the following, which has been summarized:
“Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That is wrong. That has got to change…. In my view the time is long overdue for us to remove the federal prohibition of marijuana. In my view states should have the right to regulate marijuana the same way the state and local laws now govern the sale of alcohol and tobacco. And among other things that means that recognized businesses in states that have legalized marijuana should be fully able to use the banking system without fear of federal prosecution. In addition, in those states that decide to go forward and I’m not here advocating that states do it, that is the decision of the individual states within our federal system, but those states that choose to go forward can then tax marijuana like they tax alcohol and cigarettes and in fact earn a substantial amount of money…. In the year 2015 it is time for the federal government to allow states to go forward as they best choose, it is time to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol, it is time to end the arrests of so many people and the destruction of so many lives for possessing marijuana.”
Jill Stein: Last but not least, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has positioned herself as a true progressive on the issue of marijuana legalization and her views are most aligned with those of Democratic president candidate, Bernie Sanders. Stein’s platform position on marijuana is available directly on her website and is accessible at www.jill2016.com/legalize stating explicitly that: “Marijuana is not illegal because it’s dangerous; if marijuana is dangerous, it’s only because it’s illegal. It’s time to take it off the black market, end crime and violence related to marijuana trafficking, stop wasting money and ruining lives by prosecuting victimless crimes, reduce prison populations, increase tax revenue, allow sick people their medicine, let farmers grow marijuana and hemp, and give responsible adults their freedom by legalizing it!”
No matter what your political beliefs, the fact is that marijuana legalization is now part of the public conversation and regardless of what happens in the general election many states have upcoming ballot initiatives that show growing support by constituents and advocacy groups alike. One of the largest and most active marijuana advocacy groups, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is helping to campaign for legalization efforts in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Ohio. You can read more about these initiatives on MPP’s website at www.mpp.org/initiatives. We urge our readers to educate themselves on these issues and to get involved with the democratic process at the local, state, and national levels.