The 2016 campaign has made clear that the next President of the United States will have an immeasurable effect on public policy for years to come, including Supreme Court appointments, further Obamacare implementation, and national security considerations. One other area in which the Presidential nominees differ is the approach to cannabis. With Americans’ opinions evolving rapidly on the issue, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Republican nominee Donald Trump, and Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson offer divergent paths forward on cannabis policy.
Hillary Clinton: The Progressive Candidate
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has completed an evolution on the cannabis issue over the course of her presidential run, with recent statements from her campaign signaling that she would be a friend to the pro-cannabis movement if she wins in November.
Back in March, during an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” Clinton expressed mild support for not intervening in state laws regarding cannabis production and use,
I think what the states are doing right now needs to be supported… I absolutely support all the states that are moving toward medical marijuana, moving toward legalizing it for recreational use, but I want to see what the states learn from that experience.
There are still a lot of questions that we have to answer at the federal level.
More recently, in an apparent response to the DEA’s decision not to reschedule cannabis as a Schedule I Federally Controlled Substance, senior Clinton policy advisor Maya Harris released a statement saying that if Clinton is elected, she would oversee the rescheduling of the substance,
As president, Hillary will build on the important steps announced today by rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance. She will also ensure Colorado, and other states that have enacted marijuana laws, can continue to serve as laboratories of democracy.
As her campaign’s statements make clear, a President Hillary Clinton would likely chart a more progressive path on the issue of cannabis cultivation and use.
Donald Trump: The Status Quo Candidate
To call Donald Trump the candidate of the status quo would normally be met with incredulous laughter (much like the thought of a Trump candidacy in general.) The GOP nominee’s stances on cannabis legalization, however, are relatively normal compared to his other policy positions.
Trump has voiced approval for medical cannabis programs, saying that he supports them “100 percent.” However, during last year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump attacked Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis,:
If they vote for it, they vote for it… But, you know, they’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems.
More recently, in October, Trump declared that he was supportive of a state-based approach to cannabis:
In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state.
While the GOP nominee has expressed a middle-of-the-road approach to cannabis policy, the candidate’s campaign cohorts have painted a more distressing picture of what cannabis policy could look like under a President Donald Trump.
Trump has tapped Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate, bringing into his inner circle a man whose past actions on cannabis are anything but progressive. The same can also be said of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has been mentioned as a frontrunner for attorney general in a Trump administration.
Christie has been an outspoken opponent of cannabis, propagating the “gateway drug” theory.
While the members of a prospective Trump administration veer rightward in their approaches to cannabis, the GOP nominee’s opinions are surprisingly more in keeping with those of the average Republican voter these days.
Recent polling indicates that even GOP voters have evolved on the issue: A recent survey conducted by the polling firm YouGov found that for the first time, a plurality of Republican voters (45%) favored cannabis legalization, while a minority (42%) opposed it.
Gary Johnson: The Cannabis Candidate
If you are pro-cannabis, then you’ve probably heard of former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. The Republican-turned-Libertarian presidential candidate — he governed the Land of Enchantment from 1994-2003 — has made headlines for his pro-cannabis stances.
Johnson supports the legalization of cannabis, a position he purports to have held since 1999: Johnson explained his conversion on the issue in a 2011 op-ed, saying it was informed by his observance of the growth of both the black market and the drug war:
I decided I simply couldn’t allow the status quo to continue unchallenged, so in 1999 I became an advocate for legalizing marijuana and adopting harm reduction strategies for dealing with abuse of harder drugs (including prescriptions). I’ve been making these arguments ever since.
He claims that his use of cannabis to help in his recovery from a 2005 paragliding accident also helped guide his thinking on the issue.
Johnson has reiterated elsewhere in interviews that he believes cannabis legalization could play a role in lowering Americans’ use of more serious drugs:
On the recreational side, I have always maintained that legalizing marijuana will lead to overall less substance abuse because it’s so much safer than everything else that’s out there starting with alcohol.
Johnson has also explained that the issue for him is as much about social justice as it is the relatively benign nature of cannabis:
[W]e need to look to be pardoning those that are in prison for victimless, nonviolent crime. And back to the disparity in drug laws: If you are of color, there is a four times more likelihood that you will go to jail than if you are white.
Johnson’s campaign hopes to attract both disaffected Republicans and Democrats who were supportive of the candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. Johnson’s campaign has yet to become a major force and sees him current polling averages show him scoring in the high single-digits against his better-known and better-funded rivals.
However, his outspoken advocacy for the liberalization of cannabis laws could mark a sea change in the way politicians approach the issue.
Who do you think is the best of the Presidential nominees, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or Gary Johnson? Tell us your thoughts on social media or in the comments below.