Where Do the 2020 Presidential Candidates Stand on Cannabis Legalization?

Cannabis legalization

Support for cannabis legalization has never had as much momentum behind it as it does in 2019, and with the US Presidential Election on the horizon, drug reform policies look set to take center stage in many candidates' manifestos.

Cannabis legislation used to be a relatively off-limits point during the days of Reagan and the War on Drugs, but the US has come a long way since then, with 11 states legalizing recreational marijuana and a further 33 allowing medicinal use, and it's now a key policy differentiator for many voters. Dozens of prospective candidates have already declared their intentions to run, and as a prospective pot stock investor, why not use their cannabis policies to set them apart? Let's take a look at a few of the more prominent candidates' stances:

Joe Biden

Former Vice President, Delaware

The former VP to Barack Obama and Democratic hopeful has been an ardent disparager of cannabis legislation throughout his political career and is the only 2020 Democratic candidate to be explicitly opposed to federal legalization. Biden's plans for cannabis include rescheduling it as a Schedule II drug, which would facilitate scientific research. In 2010, he was reported as saying, “There’s a difference between sending someone to jail for a few ounces and legalizing it…The punishment should fit the crime. But I think legalization is a mistake. I still believe [marijuana] is a gateway drug.”

However, Biden obviously realized that a more proactive approach to cannabis legalization could be useful in getting some votes. Perhaps spooked by the fact the only candidate with a similar approach to him was the current President, he made somewhat of a U-turn in July by publishing a 10-page justice reform proposal, which included decriminalization, a $20 billion USD prevention package, and an end to private prisons, among other ideas.

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“I believe my criminal justice reform package is as strong or stronger than anyone else,” Biden said. The polls will be the judge of that, Joe.

Bernie Sanders

US Senator, Vermont

Bernie Sanders was one of the most prominent and recognizable candidates in 2016, and his campaign then was noted for the incredible enthusiasm of his supporters and opposition to major corporations. Initially considered a longshot, he won the hearts and more importantly the voices of many, and went on to win 23 primaries and caucuses before eventually losing the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton.

Sanders is one of the most pro-cannabis candidates you'll find, and it's not just a recent policy either. He first pushed for legalization over 20 years ago and was the first candidate in 2016 to openly declare his support for federal cannabis legalization. The Vermont senator is also a co-sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act, which aims for federal decriminalization and said of his support for the act: “The bottom line is we need to rethink fundamentally our attitude toward marijuana.”

Donald Trump

Current President

President Trump has failed to give any substance to his stance on cannabis, perhaps fearing that a definitive stance either way would alienate large swathes of his voter base. During his 2016 campaign, he said, “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state. Marijuana is such a big thing,” which essentially passes any responsibility away from him on a federal level.

However, the appointment of Jeff Sessions, a staunch anti-cannabis policymaker, as Attorney General sent out a clear message according to some experts. Leafly's Bruce Barcott said, "Still wondering what Trump thinks about legalization? Hang on, let me order a big-ass neon billboard from Obvious Signage & Sons. Here’s what it says: HE’S AGAINST IT." So, despite not giving a definitive stance personally, the Trump Administration has done little to advance cannabis legislation, and this should be expected to continue should he be reelected.

Elizabeth Warren

US Senator, Massachusetts

Much like former VP Biden, Senator Warren has flip-flopped on her cannabis stance in recent years given how important it could be in gaining votes. Initially opposed to her state's 2016 adult-use cannabis bill, she is now somewhat of a pro-cannabis champion, having also declared her support for the Marijuana Justice Act, as well as signing the descheduling bill put forward last year. Warren also sees the benefits cannabis legalization can have economically, having co-sponsored three bills aimed at providing banking access to marijuana businesses.

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“No one should go to jail for a joint. But more Americans are arrested for marijuana possession than all violent crimes combined,” stated Senator Warren last year.

Beto O'Rourke

Former US representative, Texas

Having declared his intention to run in March, cannabis legislation looks like it will be a prominent feature of O'Rourke's campaign. A long-time critic of the War on Drugs and vocal advocate of federal legalization, O'Rourke could use his cannabis stance as the center-piece policy of his campaign as he looks to distinguish himself from a crowded field. “We stand a better chance of keeping kids from using marijuana if it is sold by regulated businesses instead of by teenagers on street corners and middle school playgrounds,” he said back in 2014.


So that's our list of just a few of the more prominent US presidential candidates in the running next year, but there are plenty more with a pretty varied array of attitudes towards cannabis legalization. It's almost certain that cannabis legalization will be a huge talking point for all candidates in the run-up to the election, and it's definitely a policy worth informing yourself on before hitting the polls.

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