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The Political Pot Card – Using Marijuana Legalization for Political Gain

marijuana legalization
Written by Alexandra Hicks

In the United States, over 60% of the voting population is in support of full marijuana legalization; so why is it still illegal and can we expect that to change anytime soon? Does the upcoming election hold the key?

Regardless of your political leanings, I feel it’s important to take a look at both of our current candidates and learn what they’re saying about legalization, and what their history on the topic actually reflects. Normally when I see articles of this genre, they only cover one candidate’s point of view. Democrat or republican, blue or red, this side or that one.

Honestly, it feels like they’re trying to sway the readers’ votes, and I personally don’t need anyone else telling me what to think. So, here are just the straight facts – exact quotes, past records, and current information – regarding what both, Joe Biden (D) and Donald Trump (R), have to say about federal marijuana legalization in the United States.

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The upcoming election

First and foremost, I think it’s important to mention that any opinions reflected in this article are my own, however, don’t expect to read this and get any insight into mine (or CBD testers’ as a whole) political views. I’m incredibly moderate ?

Whether you’re ready for it or not, election day is just a short 39 days away. Despite the coronavirus chaos and social unrest currently making headlines in the United States, tens of millions of Americans plan to cast their ballots, either in person or by mail – and very much is at stake this election during which we will fill all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, a third of the Senate seats, and of course, the big chair in the Oval Office.

Over the next few years, the President (whoever it may be) will face some astronomical and unprecedented challenges to undertake, such as rising unemployment and struggling socioeconomic programs including healthcare and social security. But this year, marijuana legalization is a very polarizing issue that is already playing a huge role in the upcoming election.

Cannabis is booming. It’s one of the largest cash crops in the United States in an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people in numerous states. At the time of writing this, marijuana is illegal in the U.S., but approved for medical use in 33 states. Eleven of those states have also permitted adult-use recreational markets. Hemp (cannabis with less than 0.3% THC) is completely legal thanks to the recently revised Farm Bill of 2018.

Legalizing it federally would mean less red tape for business owners, easier access for medical patients, better pricing, and less-black market competition and related crime.

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Biden’s concerning history and current proposal

He’s come a long way, but as history shows us, there weren’t many D.C. lawmakers back in the 1980s and 1990s that were tougher on drug offences – including marijuana – than Delaware Senator Joe Biden. During the entirety of those 2 decades, Biden was a central figure in the War on Drugs, responsible for unjustly imprisoning tens of thousands of Americans, many of which were minority or low-income individuals.

Specifically, Biden introduced numerous bills with the intent to harshly penalize those convicted of producing and distributing federally prohibited, or schedule 1, narcotics. These bills called for more severe charges for first offenders and longer prison sentences. One specific piece of legislature that comes to mind is the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which sounds good but unfortunately played a key role in mass incarcerations for drug offenses, even many who were not involved in violent crimes.

Biden’s stance continued well into the modern, with him quoted making anti-cannabis comments as recently as 2010. “There’s a difference between sending someone to jail for a few ounces [of marijuana] and legalizing it,” Biden stated in an ABC News Interview. “The punishment should fit the crime. But I think legalization is a mistake. I still believe [marijuana] is a gateway drug.”

However, Biden claims that his views on marijuana have changed considerable over the last 10 years. Knowing that Americans want cannabis legalized and available to them, Biden completely changed his tune come January 2019. “There’s a difference between sending someone to jail for a few ounces [of marijuana] and legalizing it. The punishment should fit the crime. But I think legalization is a mistake. I still believe [marijuana] is a gateway drug,” Biden claimed.

A few months later, while speaking with New Hampshire voters in May 2019, Biden commented that, “Nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana.” He laid out a ‘plan’ for decriminalizing marijuana, if elected, and automatically expunging existing criminal records for possession by reclassifying cannabis to a Schedule II substance (it is currently a Schedule I, reserved for drugs with the highest potential for abuse and addiction).

Democratic VP candidate Kamala Harris is essentially in the exact same boat as Biden – she says she supports legalization but her record says otherwise. Harris is responsible for jailing roughly 1,500 people for marijuana violations, and as NORML executive director Erik Altieri puts it to Rolling Stone, her history on drug reform has been “problematic,” and her “record is not one anyone would qualify as progressive, particularly when it comes to marijuana.”

Trump’s confusing stance

Considering cannabis has not yet been legalized, decriminalized, or rescheduled; it’s fair to assume that Trump doesn’t support cannabis, or he just doesn’t see it as anything to prioritize. Under his watch, it remains a Schedule 1 narcotic, federally illegal with many hinderances as far as business, taxing, and healthcare go.

Trump has, on the hand, been consistent in his support for states having the right to make their own decisions regarding legalization, and very few raids of cannabis businesses have happened under his watch. In August 2019, Steven Nelson of DC Examiner asked Trump whether marijuana would be legalized under his presidency. “We’re going to see what’s going on,” Trump replied. “It’s a very big subject and right now we are allowing states to make that decision. A lot of states are making that decision, but we’re allowing states to make that decision.” A characteristically indirect response.

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While those statements offer a bit of relief that, at least, things won’t get any worse – Trump’s history with cannabis reform is shoddy as well, which is particularly noticeable in the staff he choces. For example, Trump initially hired former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general. Sessions was very outspoken on the subject of marijuana – he hated it. While acting as attorney general, Sessions was actively trying to repeal numerous cannabis industry protections.

Another questionable decision came as recently as December 2019, when Trump attached a signing statement to a federal funding bill that was signed into law. Presidents typically attach signing statements to legislation that they believe could impede their executive authority. This particular signing statement, indicates that President Trump would have the “authority to uphold federal law in accordance with his constitutional responsibilities.” This would allow him to ignore previously passed government protections for medical cannabis businesses.

There has been some talk over the last few weeks of President Trump legalizing marijuana right now, via executive order. That would be historic and monumental, but let’s not be fooled into thinking this would happen because he finally is interested in what the people what. Rather, it would sweep the rug out from under his opponent’s feet, taking away one major political tool the democratic party has been using to their advantage. In an interview with former Gov. Scott Walker earlier this month, Trump nervously joked about taking the cannabis ticket away from Joe Biden by legalizing it nationwide.

And regarding VP Mike Pence, he’s pretty much anti-everything, and has always been firmly against any kind of cannabis reform. This is painfully obvious when you take a look at his home state of Indiana – one of the least progressive cannabis states in the entire country, where Pence served as governor.

Decriminalization vs Full Legalization

This is a very important distinction that needs reiterating: Legalization and decriminalization are NOT the same. Both Trump and Biden regularly use the word “decriminalization” in reference to marijuana, which is still much more prohibitive than full blown legalization.

Full legalization would remove all legal restrictions against marijuana, making it available to purchase and possess at will. It would be regulated similar to tobacco and alcohol, like it already is in many legal states. Decriminalization of cannabis would mean that people would not be prosecuted for possession under a certain amount (usually 1 or 2 ounces), but cannabis would remain illegal and penalties would be at the discretion of the local jurisdiction you’re in.

Again, Trump and Biden have both laid out plans for decriminalization, but have rarely mentioned full federal legalization of marijuana.

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Final Thoughts

In short, politicians lie and it’s difficult to know what they truly stand for. Trump has made absolutely no progress on the pot front but makes sure to mention his ‘forward-thinking’ ideas on the subject when it suits him best – and when it was politically savvy to be tough on drug crimes, both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had no qualms locking up thousands of people on cannabis charges.

I can’t tell you who to vote for, and I’m certainly glad that cannabis reform is such a hot-button issue, but one of the main reasons anyone is even talking about it is because they think it will benefit them and their cause. Otherwise, it would have been legal a long time ago.

Thanks for stopping by, where we’re covering everything related to medical cannabis and legal cannabis business. Stop back frequently and subscribe to the Medical Cannabis Weekly Newsletter to keep yourself up-to-date.


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About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.