The Politics of Marijuana Legalization – Democratic Edition

Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently introduced legislation aimed at curbing the federal prohibition on marijuana, removing the drug from the federal government’s list of the “most dangerous” substances. Hillary Clinton quickly followed suit, announcing that she would move to make marijuana a Schedule II substance, which are considered to have “less abuse potential.” Drugs like Cocaine, OxyContin, Adderall and meth are Schedule II drugs. This would allow federal researchers to explore how to best use marijuana as medicine.

With the rush by politicians now to be generous towards cannabis, we thought it was time to examine the politics of marijuana legalization. For now we’re going to cover the Democrats, but we will follow up with a post outlining Republican positions as well. The field there is much larger so it’s going to take a bit longer to compile data on their positions.

Starting with the politics of marijuana legalization on the democratic side, we have Bernie Sanders’ plan, where marijuana would not automatically become legal. Rather, states would have the right to decide whether or not they want to legalize the drug – without fear of federal impediment. In effect, states would inherit the power to regulate marijuana in the same way state and local laws now govern the sale of alcohol and tobacco. The bill is also intended to allow growers and dispensers to use the banks, which routinely shun business from the legal pot industry for fear they will be shut down by federal authorities. “In my view, the time is long overdue for us to remove the federal prohibition on marijuana,” Sanders said at a campaign event at George Mason University in Virginia last month, when he first announced his intentions.During his remarks at the university, Sanders said that the federal marijuana prohibition has blighted the lives of too many young people, especially young people of color. As president, Sanders would have the executive authority to de-schedule the drug; other proposals would require Congress to act.

Hillary Clinton’s plan is aimed less at legalization and more at opening the door for further studies of the drug. “What I do want is for us to support research into medical marijuana because a lot more states have passed medical marijuana than have legalized marijuana, so we’ve got two different experiences or even experiments going on right now,” Clinton was quoted as saying during a town hall. “And the problem with medical marijuana is there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence about how well it works for certain conditions, but we haven’t done any research. Why? Because it’s considered what’s called a Schedule I drug and you can’t even do research in it.” she further stated:”If we’re going to have a lot of states setting up marijuana dispensaries so that people who have some kind of medical need are getting marijuana, we need know what’s the quality of it, how much should you take, what should you avoid if you’re taking other medications.” Clinton has said previously that she does not support legalizing marijuana, but believes in the medical use of cannabis and reforming the criminal justice system to keep low-level drug offenders out of jail.

A recent Gallup poll found that 58% of Americans support legalizing marijuana, though only a handful of lawmakers in Congress currently support legalization or leaving the matter to states. Though pot remains an illegal substance under federal law, four states – Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska – as well as the District of Columbia have legalized the use of recreational marijuana. The US Justice Department has in effect stopped enforcing the law in states where voters have elected to legalize recreational use – but there is no guarantee a future administration would take the same approach.

“The Obama administration has essentially allowed these states to go forward and to do what their people have chosen to do,” Sanders said recently on the senate floor. “That’s a good step forward, but not good enough, because a new administration with a different point of view could simply go forward and prosecute these marijuana businesses despite what the people in these given states have chosen to do.”

While Senator Sanders bill is unlikely to gain traction in the senate it is definitely not going unnoticed by the rapidly growing marijuana industry. “Senator Sanders really grabbed the nation’s attention when he became the first major-party presidential candidate to speak out in support of ending marijuana prohibition,” said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which has given Sanders an “A” grade for his stance on the issue. “His actions today speak even louder than his words last month. Hopefully, this legislation will get his colleagues in Congress talking about the need for comprehensive marijuana policy reform.”

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