Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, August 8, 2016

Are the 2016 Presidential pot politics really so "hazy"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by the headline of this new Ozy article, which is "The Hazy Politics of Cannabis."   Here are excerpts:

States and municipalities have enacted a mishmash of laws and regulations in recent years, from allowing full recreational use to allowing only possession of cannabis oil with a doctor’s approval.  The Obama administration has de-emphasized marijuana enforcement, and a legal industry has started to flourish in some states.  That’s been good news for one of those seeking the presidency this fall: Libertarian Gary Johnson, who was CEO of a marijuana business before launching a second run for president. An avid user — he says he’ll swear it off in the White House — Johnson counters Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as the more pro-pot candidate.

But for marijuana to have a prominent place in a general election — an election that will likely rest on the economy and an uncertain world — would all but require Johnson to be a bigger presence.  If he can clear the required 15 percent polling bar, he is expected to force the issue in the debates, though his campaign did not respond to OZY’s requests for comment on the matter.  But short of a debate moment or an interviewer looking for an unusual question, “neither candidate will likely say the word ‘marijuana’ again,” says Allen St. Pierre, former executive director of the pro-legalization National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws....

[T]here’s very little political upside for either Trump or Clinton to force the issue, says Larry Sabato, the head of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.  “This issue — full legalization — splits the generations,” Sabato says.  Older people, on the one hand, boast higher voting rates and are leery of legalization. Younger voters, meanwhile, form the hard core of campaign volunteers and are in favor.  “So,” says Sabato, “most candidates like to sidestep the issue by focusing on medical marijuana.”

Clinton supports more research on medical pot and says she would reschedule marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug — with no medical use, on par with heroin and ecstasy — to Schedule 2.  She would mostly follow the Obama administration’s lead of not interfering with states and discouraging federal law enforcement for possession. Clinton has also said she would look at tweaks to the banking system so it supports marijuana businesses in legalization states, but she is not all-in on legalization without more study.  Incidentally, she could get an electoral boost from marijuana referenda in Nevada (recreational) and Florida (medical), nudging Democratic-leaning younger voters to the polls.  The doozie this year is California, as America’s most populous state votes on full legalization.

As in most things, Trump is harder to predict.  He suggested legalizing all drugs in 1990.   But when asked at the Conservative Political Action Conference last year about Colorado’s experiment with recreational marijuana, he criticized it — without saying he’d halt it.  “If they vote for it, they vote for it, but they’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems,” Trump said.  “But I think medical marijuana, 100 percent.”...

Marijuana was discussed more during primary season, in part because there were more candidates and more opportunities for voters and media to press them about the topic. Bernie Sanders found ground to the left of Clinton with full-throated support of California’s legalization quest.  A bolder pot endorsement from Clinton could help her bring more reluctant Sanders fans into the fold, without embracing some of his more aggressive economic policies.  Trump, who has already sought Bernieites with an anti-trade pitch, could find similar fertile soil if he so chooses.

I think the political analysis in this article is fairly spot-on, though that fact is what leads me to question whether anything is really all that "hazy" this election cycle.  I suppose what is unclear is whether either major candidate has the courage or the convictions need to really address marijuana reform issues head on anytime soon.  To the extend Trump now seems eager to promote "America First" economic development in the coming weeks of the campaign, he should be thinking somewhat seriously about jumping on the marijuana reform bandwagon.  But, even though private equity is now getting excited about cannabis, I doubt many of Trump's hedge fund advisors have given much thought to the future of cannabis businesses.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2016/08/are-the-2016-presidential-pot-politics-really-so-hazy.html

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