2020 Race: Which Presidential Candidate Supports Legalization?

by Jayson Filingeri,

Income inequality. Campaign finance reform. Healthcare. The Green New Deal. Voters will have plenty on their minds during the upcoming presidential election, but one issue stands out among a broad constituency on both sides of the aisle: Cannabis reform.

So far, the legal cannabis market has survived purely on state legislation and a tacit policy of tolerance at the federal level. Cannabis remains a Schedule I substance at the federal level, which makes it challenging for legitimate cannabis businesses to obtain funding or invest in their future.

Moving into 2020, the cannabis industry has already expanded to become a multibillion-dollar industry. Additional states are likely to draft medical and recreational cannabis legislation, making federal cannabis reform an issue on many voters’ minds.

But who, among the current slate of 2020 presidential hopefuls, is most likely to make federal cannabis reform a priority? Not every candidate has spoken out on this subject (yet), but a nuanced look at each candidate’s policy history offers an excellent starting point.

2020 Presidential Candidates on Cannabis Reform

Four Democratic presidential candidates are tied for first place on cannabis reform thanks to their signatures on a proposed bill to erase cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. This action would effectively remove its status as a scheduled substance from the books.

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Tulsi Gabbard have cosponsored the bill, which places them on the top of the list for cannabis reform. Even if this bill does not become law – and it probably won’t – it gives these candidates the opportunity to take a clear, unambiguous stance of support for the cannabis industry at the federal level.

However, most of the candidates have expressed some degree of support for cannabis reform. Each candidate’s political history offers a comprehensive look at their position on the subject:

  • Donald Trump. The incumbent president has been inconsistent on the subject of cannabis reform. While he has expressed support for states’ rights on cannabis law (in line with his party’s official stance), his administration has refused to fund research into cannabis for veterans and installed the notorious anti-cannabis crusader Jeff Sessions as attorney general. There is no way to effectively predict where Trump will go with cannabis reform moving into 2020 and beyond.
  • Bernie Sanders. Sanders has an excellent track record of writing, supporting, and voting in favor of bills aimed at cannabis reform. He has repeatedly promised to “end the destructive war on drugs” as part of his campaign platform.
  • Joe Biden. Biden has a complex history with drug reform and has expressed skepticism about the benefits of cannabis legalization. He has advocated for harsher drug crime sentences in the past and takes a negative stance on the idea of cannabis reform.
  • Elizabeth Warren. Although Warren was skeptical about cannabis in the early days of her career in the Senate, she has expressed clear support for cannabis reform as part of her presidential platform. Her platform’s focus on financial reform also touches on the cannabis industry – she has called on lawmakers to draft cannabis banking legislation, which would solve the industry’s cash-only status quo.
  • Kirsten Gillibrand. Gillibrand is one of the most vocal advocates for cannabis reform in Congress. Although it has not always been a high-priority issue for the congresswoman, she has made it a central tenet of her presidential bid. She also recognizes the social element of cannabis reform, which can significantly reduce discriminatory incarceration for low-income urban minority communities.
  • Tulsi Gabbard. For Gabbard, removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act is a central platform policy. She has repeatedly put cannabis reform at the forefront of her candidacy and actively campaigned for support among other lawmakers.
  • Cory Booker. Booker has signed his name to a cannabis reform bill that would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and re-invest federal funding towards minority communities that the war of drugs has affected. For Booker, cannabis reform and social justice are deeply intertwined, which is the primary reason why he did not sign onto the same bill as Sanders, Warren, Gillibrand, and Gabbard.
  • Amy Klobuchar. Klobuchar has not signed or sponsored radically progressive cannabis legislation like many of her colleagues within the democratic party, although she has expressed support for cannabis reform. However, she has supported more reserved legislation for expanding federal support for cannabis research and reassessing the scheduling of cannabis-derived compounds like cannabidiol.
  • Kamala Harris. Harris has declared support for cannabis reform. She sees the wholesale legalization of cannabis for recreational adult use as a social issue that can help prevent the disproportionate incarceration of urban minority populations. Her voting record reflects this, indicating that cannabis reform will be a central part of her platform.
  • Julián Castro. Unlike his twin brother Joaquín Castro, Julián has not served in Congress and therefore has no track record of voting on cannabis reform bills. However, he has been critical of the Trump administration for interfering with states’ rights on cannabis law despite remaining silent on his platform’s stance.

Is Cannabis Reform in 2020 Likely?

The vast majority of presidential candidates have expressed some form of support for cannabis reform. While several of these candidates have a solid track record of supporting cannabis legislation, others may simply be pandering to popular interest to gain political support.

It’s crucial to recognize that while the president’s veto power makes executive support necessary for lasting reform, it is up to Congress to draft and approve the bills that make it to the president’s desk. The tide towards federal support for cannabis legislation has been turning for a long time.

It’s clear that popular support for cannabis reform remains a major topic on voters’ minds. As a result, the need for cannabis legislation is guaranteed to make its presence known through the next election cycle.