Candidates The race for the White House is about to reach its conclusion, and the US voters’ decision will doubtlessly have repercussions beyond its borders. There’s no other head of state with so much influence over the rest of the world and their decisions on legalising cannabis don't just affect Americans. What are the presidential candidates’ positions?
With the race for the White House about to reach its conclusion, whatever US voters decide is no doubt bound to have repercussions beyond their country’s borders. There’s no other head of state with so much influence over the rest of the world as whoever’s in the Oval Office. His or her decisions when it comes to economics, politics and – of course – legalising cannabis don’t just affect US citizens. Therefore, it might interest all of us in favour of changing cannabis legislation on a global level to learn about the attitudes and policies of the US presidential candidates in terms of legalising or decriminalising cannabis.
The 2016 US Presidential Elections
This coming 8th of November, more than 100 million Americans will be casting their vote to elect someone to assume the role of the 45th President of the United States. Although there are four of them vying for the position, it is clearly a two-player game.
The Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, and her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, are vying for around 85% of the cake that US voters represent, with the narrowest of percentages: at present (3 October 2016), polls give 44% of votes to Hillary Clinton, while Donald J. Trump gets 41%. Meanwhile, the other two candidates, Gary Johnson for the Libertarian party and Jill Stein for the Greens are, according to forecasts, expected to receive around 10% and 5% of the vote respectively.
Throughout the campaign, it’s been clear that politicians in general and, specifically, the candidates for the US presidency have changed their positions when it comes to cannabis. They’ve had no other choice; the major industry that has developed in the country surrounding its medicinal potential and recreational use now requires a new attitude and new measures.
The Candidates and Cannabis
The final countdown to find out who is to succeed Barack Obama has begun, and those backing cannabis legalisation in the country and beyond its borders are following events very closely. This past Monday, (27 September), the first of three debates between the two main candidates – Clinton and Trump – was held, and the former Secretary of State dominated the head-to-head with the magnate from New York. Curiously, however, it appears the support of those advocating legislation for the two main candidates is also extremely tight, and many are wondering whether, with one of them as president, some major breakthrough might just come about.
It should be noted that one of the few things both respective presidential candidates, Democratic and Republican, agree on is their support for legalising medicinal cannabis, at any rate on paper. However, neither of the two goes as far as Bernie Sanders, who only just lost against Clinton in the Democratic primaries and who intended to end the ban on cannabis.
Sanders’ plan involved declassifying cannabis from the List I of Controlled Substances and not reclassifying it – which would mean a real step toward the total legalisation of the plant. This torch was taken up by the other two rival candidates, Stein and Johnson, who hardly have any chance of taking charge in a country where the two-party system leaves little room for aspiring alternatives. Even so, it’s worthwhile looking into their policies when it comes to cannabis.
Hillary Clinton: Democratic Party
Former Secretary of State Clinton, who, if she wins the election, will become the country’s first female president, believes all states moving toward medicinal cannabis should be supported. As president, Clinton would allow the states that have passed laws on cannabis “to act as laboratories of democracy,” according to the page on penal justice reform published on her campaign website.
At the same time, she has stated, on various occasions, that she is ready to reclassify cannabis from List I of Controlled Substances to List II, as doing so would open the gates to being able to access cannabis for research purposes. Clinton wants research and study to start as soon as possible in order to determine the best way to use it, to ascertain the dose needed for each individual, and to know how it interacts with other medicines.
Moreover, Clinton has stated preferring to focus “the federal enforcement resources on violent crime, not simple marijuana possession.” This constitutes a plan aiming to put an end to the era of massive incarceration that has occurred in US prisons.
The Democratic candidate aims to reform the minimum mandatory sentence for non-violent crimes, which has had a disproportionate impact on the black and Latino population for years now, through different means, in order to reduce this penalty by half. This could allow current non-violent prisoners to receive “fairer” sentences and readjust the “re-offence” system in such a way that a non-violent drugs-related crime would not count as a “re-offence,” thus reducing the mandatory sentence for second or third crimes.
Nevertheless, doubts arise when – among other things – we look at Clinton’s choice of vice-presidential running mate, Tim Kaine. At first, The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) awarded him as a “Fail” due to his opposition to legalising and decriminalising cannabis.
Not long ago, they raised his mark slightly to what barely amounted to a “Pass,” after he stated he’d be ready to change penal legislation, although he still considers cannabis a gateway drug – despite the data, and the recent statements from the US Attorney General asserting the opposite. He has opened up somewhat to the idea that states are entitled to make their own decisions when it comes to cannabis, while indicating he would vote against.
It appears the future vice-president of the United States’ attitude bears little resemblance to that of the presidential candidate, which proves disappointing and worrying in terms of reforming cannabis legislation in the future. Nevertheless, Clinton has no qualms about coming out in defence of medicinal cannabis, possibly after having been partly influenced regarding decriminalisation by the compassionate and reasonable viewpoint of her opponent in the Democratic primaries Bernie Sanders, which so appealed to his sympathisers.
And to stoke the flames of doubt even higher, we’re faced with the statements made by the Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea Clinton, to a rally for her mother in Ohio on the weekend of 24 and 25 September. In response to a question posed by one of the attendees referring exclusively to reclassifying cannabis for conducting more medical research, the Democratic candidate’s only daughter revealed her lack of information by relating cannabis consumption with the deaths of various people in Colorado.
Her spokesperson immediately explained that Chelsea simply failed to express herself properly, and that she retracted what her words had implied. The Clintons’ daughter had overlooked a crucial piece of data regarding cannabis: No death due to cannabis has ever been recorded throughout history, according to the DEA itself.
When it comes to the subject of recreational cannabis, Clinton’s standard response is that she’s going to wait and see what happens when Colorado and other states implement their legislative endeavours. For the time being, it seems medicinal cannabis yes; and recreational, let’s see.
Donald Trump: Republican Party
It is rather unclear what Trump’s official position is regarding cannabis. His campaign website makes not a single mention of the issue, apart from promising to build a wall to prevent drugs entering the country and to help those with drug problems; a curious approach.
Trump has likewise said nothing about whether or not he’d consider reclassifying cannabis by virtue of the Controlled Substances Act, although he has publicly come out in favour of medicinal cannabis. In February this year, he acknowledged in an interview knowing people with serious health problems who are helped by “medicinal cannabis.”
However, we cannot forget that the business magnate has done nothing but change his mind when it comes to cannabis. Despite having repeatedly stated his support for medicinal cannabis and that states should decide for themselves, he has also declared that he opposes legalisation. He has justified his viewpoint by questioning the effectiveness of cannabis legislation in Colorado – where cannabis was legalised in 2012 for medical and recreational purposes; but things aren’t so straightforward.
Over the last few years, the republican candidate has made a series of statements regarding cannabis and the war on drugs in different interviews with the press. In 1990, Trump stated in the Miami Herald that “Drugs need to be legalised for this war to be won.” But with Trump – who has claimed not to drink, or smoke, and much less experiment with drugs – you never know, since his tendency of adopting so many different points of view in this regard can only mean he’s unclear what he’d do were he president. And thus it’s even less clear to the rest of us.
In some of his statements, he has gone so far as to say consuming the plant might have negative effects on one’s health in general, and specifically on the brain. Moreover, during the Republican primaries, in a campaign advertisement against Republican candidate Jeb Bush, he had no misgivings about using cannabis consumption to tarnish his opponent’s credibility, who had admitted having smoked 40 years ago. Trump’s campaign strategies by no means appear very “tolerant” toward cannabis consumers.
Another cause for concern for those backing legalisation is Trump’s choice of vice-presidential candidate, Mike Pence. As the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Pence is another one of those people who continue – in this day and age – to advocate banning cannabis, as unbelievable and anachronistic as it might seem. There is also the fear that Trump would appoint Chris Christie as Attorney General, which could put an end to years of progress and advancement toward more sensible and reasonable cannabis policies.
It therefore appears that, basically, Trump’s position is a continuation of the current status quo, if not a step backward. What’s more, we cannot forget that the Republican Party’s program indicates that the party is positioning itself against legalising cannabis for medicinal purposes, appealing to federal laws.
Gary Johnson: Libertarian Party
The presidential candidate most attractive to those supporting cannabis is, without a doubt, the one representing the Libertarian Party, Gary Johnson, who has been advocating the decriminalisation and legalisation of cannabis for over 17 years. The former governor of New Mexico, curiously representing the Republican Party, was nominated by the Libertarian Party at the end of May this year.
Gary Johnson wants to end the War on Drugs and he says so on his campaign website. He supports legalising and deregulating cannabis for medicinal and recreational use by adults on a federal level by striking it off the federal list of drugs – in other words, declassifying it. He has also actively supported state electoral initiatives to legalise and regulate cannabis for adults in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
The former governor Johnson, who has always talked openly about his personal consumption of medicinal cannabis, hails from the private sector where he was the managing director of a company in the medicinal cannabis sector, Cannabis Sativa Inc., before standing down to put himself forward as presidential candidate. Compared with his main candidates, Clinton and Trump, the difference is clear.
Jill Stein: Green Party
The position of the other female candidate in this campaign, Jill Stein, may prove equally as attractive and interesting to those championing cannabis. Standing well to the left of Clinton – she took part in the Occupy Wall Street movement – this doctor and professor is a highly articulate speaker, and the candidate representing the Greens once again.
Dr. Stein supports legalising and regulating cannabis for medicinal and adult use throughout the country. As a physician and champion of public health, she believes cannabis is only dangerous because it’s illegal, and not because it’s inherently dangerous. As she has stated, “marijuana is without a doubt less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, which are perfectly legal… The real danger of cannabis is the violence of the drug’s underground economy caused by the prohibition.”
Stein has expressed her intention to strike cannabis off List I, the category including more harmful substances, and to reclassify it to a more appropriate category to be determined by medical science. In Stein’s own words: “Ending marijuana prohibition would be a huge win for freedom and social justice, and a major step towards the just, Green future we deserve.” That’s so true, and what a shame her share of the vote forecast in these elections is less than 5%.
The US voters will decide
In recent years, the US has experienced a turnaround in its politics concerning drugs, particularly when it comes to cannabis. The civil movement behind legalisation has gained momentum, and the population is increasingly critical of the war on drugs, a war against drug trafficking in which human rights are constantly being violated.
Obama took the first steps by allowing medicinal and recreational cannabis to be legalised, and getting the country to move away from a policy of criminalising the plant toward one focussed on health. He has also managed to interpret UN conventions more flexibly, allowing experiments such as that of Uruguay. It appears to make sense that the Democrats would continue in this direction, while the Republicans wouldn’t.
While it’s obvious that neither Trump nor Clinton are ideal candidates for the cannabis industry, nor for those backing legislation, since someone has to be elected it might well be that Clinton is the most reliable – with Trump, you never know. Although Gary Johnson – or even Jill Stein – might be the perfect candidate, their campaigns have received little media attention and it seems way beyond a remote possibility that either of them could be elected president. Voters in favour of legislation must therefore choose between staying on course by voting for Clinton, or going who knows where by voting for Trump. The US voters will have the final say. And then, we’ll see.