2016 is going to be an important year for the marijuana legalization movement. Finally, it’s become an important issue in the presidential election and candidates are feeling the pressure to take an official stance. The current candidates from the two major parties are, to no one’s surprise, largely divided on this issue.
So far, the Republican Party is generally opposed to making swift changes to prohibition laws, at least at the federal level. Some of the candidates support states’ rights to experiment with medical marijuana, but that’s as far as they go. And while they support states’ rights to vote on the issue, most have stated they would have voted against legalization in the states that legalized.
Donald Trump, the current GOP front-runner, has stated that he’s against legalization. “I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about that,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems.” However, when asked about the states’ rights aspect to marijuana laws, Trump said, “If they vote for it, they vote for it.”
Chris Christie is arguably the most vocal opponent of legalization; when asked if he would enforce federal drug policies in the states that have legalized and regulated cannabis, his answer was “Absolutely. I will crack down and not permit it.” He aims to flat out reverse all legalization progress and enact strict prohibition laws.
Libertarian-leaning Rand Paul is the prominent exception in the GOP. He not only supports states’ rights but also wants to make changes in our incarceration system. “What I’m advocating for is allowing the federal government not to intervene with regard to medical marijuana, and that’s the only decision I’ve made, is that I would allow states to have medical marijuana, and make the decisions on medical marijuana within the state lines,” Paul stated in a recent interview. “So I’ve been opposed to people selling $300 worth of marijuana and getting 55 years in prison.” However he has not stated any support for legalization specifically for recreational purposes. Furthermore, after implying that he had used marijuana in college during an interview with WHAS11, he added, “I made mistakes when I was a kid.”
Republican candidates vary on the issue because their voter base has mixed opinions. For Democratic candidates, marijuana policy is an easier call. It offers little risk among their main voter base which largely supports liberalized marijuana laws. So far, the party’s front-runner, Hillary Clinton, is taking a neutral stance, while still more relaxed than any GOP candidate. When asked about her stance on the issue during the first Democratic debate, she reiterated views that she has expressed in the past:
“I think that we have the opportunity through the states that are pursuing recreational marijuana to find out a lot more than we know today. I do support the use of medical marijuana, and I think even there we need to do a lot more research so that we know exactly how we’re going to help people for whom medical marijuana provides relief.”
Hillary’s rival candidate, Bernie Sanders, is arguably the candidate that marijuana legalization activists are waiting for. During the debate, when asked if he would support Nevada’s 2016 ballot to legalize recreational marijuana, he replied “I suspect I would vote yes.” The crowd applauded.
Sanders’ answer is significant because it marks the first time a 2016 candidate has openly declared support for legalizing recreational – and not just medical – marijuana. Bernie elaborated on his answer:
“And I would vote yes because I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for non-violent offenses. We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away, and yet we are imprisoning or giving jail sentences to young people who are smoking marijuana.
I think we have to think through this war on drugs which has done an enormous amount of damage. We need to rethink our criminal justice system; we’ve got a lot of work to do in that area.”
Bernie Sanders has been labelled as a radical socialist (especially by GOP candidates), and not only as a result of his views on prohibition and the war on drugs but he has spoken boldly on issues of income and wealth inequality, getting big money out of politics, climate change, immigration policies and more.