The 2016 Presidential Election and Marijuana Policy
By Keith Mansur
Oregon Cannabis Connection
One of the ways to fast track major policy change in America is to have that policy be a major plank in the presidential election cycle. One only has to look back to 2008 and see that Obama was elected because he promised to stop the wars and fix healthcare.
Franklin Roosevelt, in 1932, was elected on a platform everyone remembers called the “New Deal”. What many don’t realize, Roosevelt also promised to repeal alcohol prohibition, which happened in 1933. The Democrats took a huge majority in that election in both chambers of Congress, as well.
And, as far back as 1800, Thomas Jefferson campaigned on repealing the Alien and Sedition Act imposed by his predecessor, John Adams. In a nasty election, with outrageous accusations hurled between Adams and Jefferson throughout the election, Jefferson’s party, the Democratic-Republicans, took over congress and dominated the political landscape for decades, electing the next four presidents.
We find major change in political power based on presidential and party platform, and often on a single issue or two the motivating factors. It has become apparent, especially in our current divisive political climate, that the marijuana movement has an opportunity to be a driving force for major political change using this very tactic.
The big question this year is…Will any of the major candidates or political parties step up and embrace cannabis?
The current group of candidates do not appear ready to make the leap. Most of the leading candidates are still very skeptical of cannabis, and most are on record saying the status quo is fine, for now.
The Democratic frontrunner, by miles, is former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Clinton has taken an unsupportive stance in the past, specifically during the 2008 election, opposing even decriminalization. But, more recently, Clinton may be turning more towards science, and state by state attempts to deal with medical and recreational marijuana.
In an interview with KPCC last July:
“I’m a big believer in acquiring evidence, and I think we should see what kind of results we get, both from medical marijuana and from recreational marijuana, before we make any far-reaching conclusions.”
“We need more studies. We need more evidence. And then we can proceed.”
In an Oct 2014 interview with CNN, Alan St. Pierre, the director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws questioned whether she would stick with it:
“She is so politically pragmatic. If she has to find herself running against a conservative Republican in 2016, I am fearful, from my own view here, that she is going to tack more to the middle. And the middle in this issue tends to tack more to the conservative side.”
Pierre may have a point. In recent elections, candidates have moved towards the middle to garner as many votes as possible, assuming once they have the nomination they have to be more attractive to moderate voters. But, to catch up to Clinton, the other candidates may be more amenable to the idea.
Elizabeth Warren, then progressive freshman senator from Massachusetts, who is a favorite among the left wing of the Democrat party, has come out in favor of medical marijuana, but with strict controls. She told Boston’s WTKK-FM in an interview:
“You know, I held my father’s hand while he died of cancer, and it’s really painful when you do something like that up close and personal. My mother was already gone, and I was very, very close to my father. And it puts me in a position of saying, if there’s something a physician can prescribe that can help someone who’s suffering, I’m in favor of that.
Now, I want to make sure they’ve got the right restrictions. It should be like any other prescription drug — that there’s careful control over it. But I think it’s really hard to watch somebody suffer that you love.”
Although a progressive favorite, her stance on legalization has little room for misinterpretation. She is against it, and in the 2012 election for her senate seat said she was opposed to the outright legalization of marijuana. She has thus far not made any other position on legalization known.
Joe Biden is no friend of marijuana or the drug war. He has softened some on marijuana policy and in February of last year he did an interview with TIME magazine where he bolstered the Obama administration position on federal resources and marijuana crime:
“I think the idea of focusing significant resources on interdicting or convicting people for smoking marijuana is a waste of our resources,” Biden told TIME in an interview aboard an Amtrak train on the way to an event in Philadelphia. “That’s different than [legalization]. Our policy for our Administration is still not legalization, and that is [and] continues to be our policy.”
But, as the TIME article further points out, Biden was one of the key players in our current failed drug policy, and he proudly accepted that role:
“In the Senate, Biden was on the forefront of the Democratic Party’s war on crime, authoring or co-sponsoring legislation that created the federal “drug czar” and mandatory minimum sentencing for marijuana and the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine.
“I am not only the guy who did the crime bill and the drug czar, but I’m also the guy who spent years when I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee and chairman of [the Senate Foreign Relations Committee] trying to change drug policy relative to cocaine, for example, crack and powder,” Biden says.”
Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley signed their states medical marijuana law into effect, and decriminalization legislation relating to marijuana possession. Though their law is extremely restrictive and imposes more regulations than most state marijuana laws, he does support medical use of cannabis.
He said this after signing the Maryland decriminalization law in April of 2014:
“As a young prosecutor, I once thought that decriminalizing the possession of marijuana might undermine the Public Will necessary to combat drug violence and improve public safety.”
“I now think that decriminalizing possession of marijuana is an acknowledgement of the low priority that our courts, our prosecutors, our police, and the vast majority of citizens already attach to this transgression of public order and public health.”
O’Malley is a long-shot, as are most other Democrat hopefuls, but he may be the best option among the current options, if he decides to run. He has been showing interest in recent months.
Congressional entrenchment against marijuana is headed by a devout small click of anti-marijuana hardliners led by Republican from Maryland, Andy Harris, who told Politico in a December interview, “If they don’t like that oversight, move outside of the federal district to one of the 50 states that is not covered by the jurisdiction of Congress as a whole.”
Which leads us to the only likely Republican presidential candidate that supports marijuana, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. He told Politico in December, refering directly to the MD congressman’s attempt at blocking the D.C. law:
“I believe in more local autonomy on that,” said Sen. Rand Paul, “I think Colorado, the District, most localities should be able to make that decision for themselves.”
Rand Paul, who is the libertarian minded son of previous Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, most recently criticized the more than likely Republican White House contender Jeb Bush, calling him a hypocrite. The Hill newspaper reported in January:
“You would think he’d have a little more understanding then,” Paul told The Hill while en route to a political event in Texas.
“He was even opposed to medical marijuana,” Paul said of Bush, a potential rival in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. “This is a guy who now admits he smoked marijuana but he wants to put people in jail who do.
“I think that’s the real hypocrisy, is that people on our side, which include a lot of people who made mistakes growing up, admit their mistakes but now still want to put people in jail for that,” he said.
Will we see another election decided by a pivotal political issue? Could marijuana reform and immigration reform be linked together? Will another candidate, yet unknown, emerge to champion the marijuana cause?
Neither party has shown much organized support for marijuana. The supports tend to be from all over the aisles, with the heavy lifting being done by very liberal Democrats and libertarian minded Republicans. It will take an inspired candidate, who makes cannabis a sturdy plank in their platform, who then drags their party with them towards the future. An truly inspired candidate, indeed.
Keith Mansur is the Editor of Oregon Cannabis Connection newspaper, Oregon’s oldest marijuana print publication, and OCCNewspaper.com. He also hosts the Rogue Cannabis Radio Show on KSKQ 89.5 FM in Ashland, OR every Tuesday from 7 – 9 PM, online at www.kskq.org.