Cannabis in the 2020 Primaries: Where the Leading Presidential Hopefuls Stand in the War on Weed

Cannabis in the 2020 Primaries

 

CANNABIS IN THE 2020 PRIMARIES article by John Welch // In June 2019, just over three months away, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) will hold the first of 12 Democratic debates. Expected to be full of diverse, ambitious personalities, cannabis supporters, investors, and professionals working in the cannabis sector are beginning to question where this most recent crop of presidential hopefuls stands in the war on weed.

While the start of the 2020 presidential campaign may seem painfully early for many Americans, the reality for the presidential candidates is that waiting too long to announce their intentions to run comes with certain costs, including the risk of losing some major donors.

As Bernie Sanders learned in 2016, there is also the risk that other candidates will begin to lock up the superdelegates (or rig the party itself), making it increasingly difficult to be selected as the party’s nominee. In fact, when Sanders entered the race, making his announcement on April 30, 2015, Hillary Clinton already had a commanding lead of superdelegates, forcing Sanders to play a non-stop game of catch up, which he ultimately failed to win.

There may also be a reasonable argument for extended campaigns in that they allow for more time to vet the candidates for what amounts to the most important job in the Free World.

Whatever the arguments, the candidates for the Democratic party’s 2020 nominee are already beginning to make public cases for their candidacies, including the following presidential candidates who have already announced:

  1. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA),
  2. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY),
  3. U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA),
  4. U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ),
  5. U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN),
  6. Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro,
  7. U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI),
  8. Humanitarian entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and
  9. Bestselling author and spiritual leader Mariannae Williamson

And this is just the list of those Democrats who have already announced. (It seems the white guys mostly appear to be sitting it out—at least for now?) Several others are expected to run for president in 2020, and will likely make their formal announcements in the next couple months.

In the meantime, campaign gossip, public speeches, patriotic autobiographies, policy platforms, and formal announcements will continue to pick up steam.

Not to be outdone, potential candidates for the GOP nomination are also beginning to emerge, including Donald Trump himself who filed his 2020 presidential election forms with the FEC on the day of his inauguration, a full 45 months before the next presidential election. Trump then held a 2020 campaign rally in Florida on February 18, 2017, the earliest presidential campaign rally in U.S. history.

The other potential Republican candidates make up a much smaller group—in part because of a reluctance to go up against the incumbent president of their own party, but also because of the GOP’s fear of antagonizing Trump, and his stubbornly loyal base. Nevertheless, for a professional politician, the pull of the presidency is difficult to resist, and several Republicans appear to be positioning themselves as the GOP’s anti-Trump candidate.

Along with the increasing diversity among the potential candidates, there is also a range of different positions when it comes to cannabis legalization, as well as varying levels of commitment to cannabis as an issue that needs and deserves to be addressed.

Cannabis in the 2020 Primaries – & on the Campaign Trail
Predicting the future of cannabis in the U.S. often proves to be a tricky undertaking. It is entirely possible that cannabis will be legalized by Congress long before the 2020 election. In fact, in all likelihood, one or more presidential hopefuls will make a show of introducing or attempting to pass cannabis legislation in the run up through primary season to the general election—just as Bernie Sanders filed a bill to legalize marijuana when he was running for president in November 2015.

It’s also possible that a few of the Democratic candidates will back away from full legalization. In fact, despite a recent Gallup poll that shows 75 percent of Democratic voters support cannabis legalization, the party’s professional politicians have often lacked the backbone to admit that marijuana prohibition has been a massive, egregious failure. As Vice writes, “Though the Democrats’ 2016 platform included a plank about marijuana reform, it stopped well short of [Senator Cory] Booker’s bill, which would remove the drug from the DEA’s list of controlled substances entirely and even attempt to repair damage wrought (especially on communities of color) by the war on weed.”

What’s more, even if the House passes pro-cannabis legislation, and even if there is a fair amount of support for the cannabis legislation among Republicans in the U.S. Senate, it is not entirely clear whether the bill could get through the Senate (or conference committee), and make its way to the President’s desk for his signature. This is due to the virulent opposition of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), America’s least popular Senator, whose approval rating is currently underwater by 26% (30% approve, 56% disapprove). Another poll put McConnell at a mere 18% approval (with 74% disapproval).

Just recently, in fact, Mitch McConnell blocked cannabis legislation put forward by a Senator from his own party, Cory Gardner (R-CO). The bipartisan STATES Act, co-sponsored with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), would have directed federal agencies to leave the legalization of cannabis, both medical and recreational, in the hands of the states. It was a good, common sense piece of legislation, and even Trump signaled that he would sign it, but, thanks to the Machiavellian McConnell, who used a procedural maneuver to block the legislation, it never made it to the President’s desk. (Fortunately, McConnell is expected to face some serious heat for reelection to the senate from Matt Jones, an influential leader in Kentucky who supports marijuana legalization.)

If McConnell continues to effectively prevent the legalization of cannabis through legislative maneuvering, then we may indeed have to wait until next year. If that’s the case, then the man or woman who replaces Trump in the Oval Office in 2020 will almost certainly have a decisive, historic impact on the decades-long war on weed.

But are the 2020 nominees all certain to support cannabis legalization? Not exactly. And certainly not if you include challengers in the GOP. What follows is a summary of where each of the most prominent presidential hopefuls stands on cannabis legalization.


Current 2020 Democratic Candidates on Cannabis

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA):
Elizabeth Warren has not always been a firm supporter of cannabis legalization. In fact, as recently as 2016, when Warren’s home state of Massachusetts had a measure (Question 4) on the ballot for the legalization of cannabis, she declined to publicly endorse the measure. Since that time, however, Warren has co-sponsored a number of important pro-cannabis bills, including the following:

  1. Lead sponsor of the STATES Act (S.3032)
  2. Original cosponsor of the SAFE Banking Act (S.1152),
  3. Original cosponsor of the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act (S.3174)
  4. Cosponsor of the CARERS Act of 2015 (S.683),
  5. Cosponsor of the the CARERS Act of 2017 (S. 1764),
  6. Cosponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 (S.1689)

Warren also took the lead with 9 other senators in writing a letter to then Attorney General Jeff Sessions following remarks from the White House about a looming crackdown on cannabis businesses. Elizabeth Warren is a safe bet for cannabis legalization, but with careful and fairly rigorous regulation.
GRADE: A-

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA):
Kamala Harris won election as the U.S. Senator from California in 2016. Prior to this election, Harris, as California’s attorney general, had long been opposed to cannabis legalization. In fact, in 2014, Harris laughed when a reporter asked her opinion on her opponent’s support for legalizing marijuana, saying that “he’s entitled to his opinion.” She also declined to support cannabis on the ballot in California. It was not until May 2018 that Kamala Harris reversed course, years after a majority of Americans evolved on the issue of cannabis legalization. Since then, Harris has supported the following two bills:

  1. Cosponsor of the SAFE Banking Act (S.1152), and
  2. Cosponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 (S.1689)

Based on these bills and other public statements, it appears Kamala Harris is currently in favor of decriminalization. As she said in May 2017, “While I don’t believe in legalizing all drugs—as a career prosecutor, I just don’t—we need to do the smart thing, the right thing, and finally decriminalize marijuana.”

On the question of full legalization, however, Harris offers only lukewarm support. The end of marijuana prohibition needs to be done, she writes in her new book, “with eyes wide open, understanding that there is unfinished business when it comes to legalization.” It is unlikely that cannabis supporters can count on Kamala to follow through on comprehensive support for cannabis legalization.
GRADE: B-/C+

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY):
When Kirsten Gillibrand served in the U.S. House of Representatives, she failed to co-sponsor a single cannabis bill. Worse still, in 2007, Gillibrand voted against an amendment to protect medical marijuana from federal interference. In the last few years, however, Gillibrand has demonstrated clear support for cannabis legislation, cosponsoring a range of pro-cannabis bills, including:

  1. Original cosponsor of the CARERS Act of 2015 (S.683),
  2. Original cosponsor of the CARERS Act of 2017 (S. 1764),
  3. Cosponsor of the MEDS Act (S.1803), and
  4. Cosponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 (S.1689)
  5. Cosponsor of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 (S.2667)

Gillibrand has also called out the federal government’s hypocrisy for refusing to legalize medical marijuana until more research is conducted, but refusing to allow more medical marijuana research.

Senator Gillibrand has also taken aim at Big Pharma for their role in preventing cannabis legalization. “Big pharma keeps pushing back against legalizing medical marijuana because, in many cases, they want to continue to sell addictive drugs and dominate the market for drugs that address chronic pain. That’s wrong,” she wrote in a Twitter post. “It is time to rework our cannabis laws.” If elected president, Gillibrand could likely be counted on to remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances.
GRADE: B

U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ):
Cory Booker has long been a fierce critic of the government’s war on drugs, and his support for medical marijuana goes back at least as far as 2012, when he was Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. When Booker made his formal announcement for president on February 1, he made it clear that cannabis legalization was an important part of his platform. Booker has also been exceptionally supportive of cannabis legalization, including sponsoring or cosponsoring the following legislation:

  1. Lead sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 (S.1689),
  2. Lead sponsor of the CARERS Act of 2015 (S.683),
  3. Lead sponsor of the CARERS Act of 2017 (S. 1764), and
  4. One of the original sponsors of the STATES Act (S. 3032).
  5. Cosponsor of the SAFE Banking Act (S.1152).

Booker was also one of the 10 senators who sent a letter to then Attorney General Jeff Sessions following remarks by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggesting a looming crackdown on cannabis. The cannabis community can count on Cory Booker to support full cannabis legalization if elected president.
GRADE: A

U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI):
Tulsi Gabbard has been serving as the  U.S. Representative for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district since 2013. Previously, Gabbard served in the Hawaii House of Representatives (2002—2004), and the Honolulu City Council (2011—2012).

When Gabbard made her formal announcement as a presidential candidate, she criticized the lopsided criminal justice system which, she said, “puts people in prison for smoking marijuana while allowing corporations like Purdue Pharma, who are responsible for the opioid-related deaths of thousands of people, to walk away scot-free with their coffers full.”

According to her House website, “Rep. Tulsi Gabbard supports the full legalization of marijuana on the federal level as part of her overall effort toward criminal justice reform.” Gabbard has also been a consistent supporter of pro-cannabis legislation in House, including support for the following bills:

  1. Gabbard was a cosponsor of the Charlotte’s Web Medical Access Act of 2015 (H.R.1635)
  2. Cosponsor of the CARERS Act of 2015 (H.R.1538)
  3. Cosponsor of the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015 (H.R.2076)
  4. Cosponsor of the Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2017 (H.R.1810)
  5. Cosponsor of the SAFE Act of 2017 (H.R.2215)
  6. Cosponsor of the  Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act of 2017 (H.R.1824)
  7. Partnering with Republican Congressman Thomas Garret, Gabbard was the lead Democratic cosponsor of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017 (H.R.1227).
  8. Cosponsor of the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018 (H.R.5634)
  9. Gabbard was an original sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act of 2018 (H.R.4815)
  10. Gabbard was also the lead sponsor of the Marijuana Data Collection Act (H.R.6495).
  11. Cosponsor of the VA Survey of Cannabis Use Act (H.R.7128)
  12. Cosponsor of the Department of Veterans Affairs Policy for Medicinal Cannabis Use Act of 2018 (H.R.7130)

Tulsi Gabbard also cosponsored a resolution denouncing the War on Drugs (H.Res.933) as an official, unmitigated, racially charged failure.  Gabbard has been a consistent supporter of cannabis amendments in the House, including efforts to protect state recreational marijuana laws that conflict with federal law. She has also been a consistent, outspoken advocate for cannabis reform in the media, and on Twitter and Facebook. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is clearly a reliable friend of cannabis and can be counted on to support full cannabis legalization if elected president.
GRADE: A+

16th U.S. Secretary of HUD Julian Castro (D-TX):
Prior to becoming President Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julian Castro was the mayor of San Antonio, Texas. Given his lack of experience as a legislator in Texas or the U.S. Congress, Castro has a limited record on cannabis.

While serving as HUD Secretary, however, Castro’s department published a memo informing owners of housing facilities that receive federal assistance that they are legally required to “deny admission to any household with a member who the owner determines is, at the time of application for admission, illegally using a controlled substance.”

On the matter of evicting current tenants found to be using cannabis, Castro left that up to the discretion of the owners. As Marijuana Moment’s Tom Angell reports, rather than being a new HUD policy, the Castro memo was an update to a similar memo in 2011.

On social media, Castro has revealed a cannabis-friendly outlook. When the White House appeared to threaten a looming crackdown on cannabis, Castro publicly criticized the idea on Twitter writing, “A mistake. Colorado and other states have shown we can sensibly legalize marijuana with reasonable controls.”

In other posts, Castro has suggested an openness to cannabis legalization, but that he has not yet made up his mind. “I haven’t looked at the science yet about addiction and what it means, but it’s certainly something that I think deserves more scrutiny and more analysis.” It is not entirely clear whether Castro, if elected president, can be counted on to support full cannabis legalization.
GRADE: C+/INCOMPLETE


Likely 2020 Democratic Candidates on Cannabis

Former Vice President Joe Biden (D-VT):
As much as most everyone seems to like Joe Biden, he has never been much of a friend of marijuana. As Vice President to Obama, perhaps Biden can take some credit for allowing marijuana legalization to advance in the states; Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon all legalized the recreational use of cannabis during the Obama-Biden years. More than a dozen other states legalized medical marijuana under their watch, and, thanks primarily to the Cole Memo, the federal government primarily took a hands off approach.

Nevertheless, Joe Biden has also been openly critical of cannabis over the years, including, most surprisingly, when he said during an interview in 2010 that, “marijuana is a gateway drug; legalization is a mistake.” Biden has also proven, in the past, to be a supporter of the war on drugs, though, more recently, he has come out in support of marijuana decriminalization.

Joe Biden is not one to get stuck in the past, and he will likely continue to evolve on the question of cannabis legalization as he learns more about the leading research and the accumulating data around criminal justice and the lopsided enforcement of marijuana laws. Nevertheless, as president, Joe Biden should not be considered a big supporter of cannabis legalization, and would likely be inclined to maintain the status quo across a whole range of political issues (which might actually help him to win the center if he decides to run), including a “wait and see” approach to cannabis legalization, watching to see how it works out in the states.
GRADE: C+

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT):
Senator Bernie Sanders has been supporting cannabis legalization longer than any of the current crop of potential presidential candidates. In fact, Sanders support for marijuana can be traced back more 30 years, when he was the mayor of Burlington, Vermont in the 1980s. Since then, Sanders has publicly stated his support for cannabis on numerous occasions. In 2015, for example, during his campaign for president, Senator Sanders said,

“In my view, states should have the right to regulate marijuana the same way that state and local laws now govern the sale of alcohol and tobacco. And among other things, that means that recognized businesses in states that have legalized marijuana should be fully able to use the banking system without fear of federal prosecution.”

Sanders also slams cannabis prohibition in his new book, Where We Go from Here: Two Years in the Resistance, writing, “The prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s was a failed policy. The prohibition of marijuana has also failed.”

Along with his public support, Sanders has also been a consistent supporter of pro-cannabis legislation in the Senate, including support for the following bills:

  1. Lead sponsor of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015 (S.2237)
  2. Original cosponsor of the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act (S.3174)
  3. Cosponsor of the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015 (S.1726)
  4. Cosponsor of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 (S.134)
  5. Cosponsor of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 (S.2667)
  6. Cosponsor of the SAFE Banking Act (S.1152)
  7. Cosponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017 (S.1689)

Sanders also has a record of supporting cannabis when he was in the U.S. House of Representatives (1991—2007), at a time when cannabis was far less popular than it is today. In the House, Sanders came out in support of the following bills:

  1. Original cosponsor of the States’ Rights to Medical Marijuana Act of 2005 (H.R.2087)
  2. Original cosponsor of the Truth in Trials Act (H.R.1717)
  3. Original cosponsor of the States’ Rights to Medical Marijuana Act of 2003 (H.R.2233)
  4. Cosponsor of ‘To provide for the therapeutic use of marihuana…’ (H.R.2618)
  5. Cosponsor of the Medical Use of Marijuana Act (H.R.1782)

In addition to all of this, Bernie’s biggest achievement for cannabis came as a result of his efforts during the 2016 presidential campaign. Despite losing to Clinton during the primary, Sanders gained a massive, enthusiastic following, giving him an outsized influence over the subsequent drafting of the Democratic party’s official platform. In fact, at the time (July 2016), Slate called the Democratic platform “a monument to his campaign.”

One of the planks on that platform was removing cannabis from the list of Schedule I controlled substances, and “providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization.” We can all thank Bernie Sanders for that. As environmentalist Bill McKibben explained, “None of this would have happened…without Bernie Sanders pushing this issue front and center over and over again.” Though the platform is not a binding document on Democratic candidates, it is the polestar for the party, and has considerable influence over future campaigns and candidates, but also incumbents, public policies, and the direction of the country.
GRADE: A++


Possible 2020 Democratic Candidates on Cannabis

Former U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX):
Beto O’Rourke won the Democratic nomination for the 16th Congressional District in El Paso in 2012, in part, by running against the War on Drugs and for the legalization of cannabis. “O’Rourke’s victory demonstrates that support for drug policy reform, and even for legalizing marijuana, is no detriment to electoral success—in fact it was a key asset in his triumph,” said Drug Policy Action’s Ethan Nadelmann at the time.

As a Congressman, Beto voted in support of a record number of pro-cannabis bills, including the following:

  1. Cosponsor of the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013 (H.R.1523)
  2. Cosponsor of the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2013 (H.R.2652)
  3. Cosponsor of the Second Chance for Students Act (H.R.3252)
  4. Cosponsor of the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2015 (H.R.1940)
  5. Cosponsor of the Charlotte’s Web Medical Access Act of 2015 (H.R.1635)
  6. Cosponsor of the CARERS Act of 2015 (H.R.1538)
  7. Cosponsor of the  Responsibly Addressing the Marijuana Policy Gap Act of 2017 (H.R.1824)
  8. Cosponsor of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017 (H.R.1227).
  9. Cosponsor of the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017 (H.R.975)
  10. Cosponsor of the CARERS Act of 2017 (H.R.2920)
  11. Cosponsor of the Veterans Equal Access Act (H.R.1820)
  12. Cosponsor of the Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2017 (H.R.1810)
  13. Original cosponsor of the Charlotte’s Web Medical Access Act of 2017 (H.R.2273)
  14. Cosponsor of the SAFE Act of 2017 (H.R.2215)
  15. Original cosponsor of the Marijuana Data Collection Act (H.R.6495).
  16. Cosponsor of the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018 (H.R.5520)
  17. Cosponsor of the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018 (H.R.5634)

After serving in the 16th congressional district of Texas for three terms, Beto gave up the seat in 2018 to run a longshot campaign for U.S. Senate against incumbent Senator Ted Cruz. During his senate campaign, O’Rourke advocated ending the federal government’s prohibition of marijuana. He said he wants to create a legal framework for cannabis that discourages use among young people, but also takes profits away from the drug cartels. He also included his support for ending “federal prohibition on marijuana” on his campaign website.

For a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to represent them in the Senate in 30 years, Beto lost the race by a surprisingly slim margin (50.9% to 48.3%). As a result, Beto is now seen by some in the media, including Oprah Winfrey, as a potential presidential candidate in 2020. Beto has yet to formally announce. If he does run for president and wins, Beto O’Rourke can be counted on to support full cannabis legalization.
GRADE: A+


Possible 2020 Republican Candidates on Cannabis

President Trump’s approval rating continues to hover in the low 40s. In fact, compared to when he first took office in January 2017, Trump’s approval rating is down in every single state in the union—ranging from 10 points down in Wyoming to 35 points down in New Mexico (with an average of 22 points down across all 50 states). Meanwhile, the GOP is working aggressively to prevent the vulnerable incumbent from facing a primary challenger in 2020, including working to cancel the Republican primaries.

In contrast, other prominent Republicans, such as Senator Susan Collins, for example, have said, “I see nothing wrong with challengers—that is part of our democratic system. It’s healthy for our democracy.”

Other powerful Republican operatives, moreover, including a collaborative effort by several conservative groups collectively known as Defending Democracy Together, are working “to recruit and support a primary challenger to Trump.” According to the executive director, Sarah Longwell, “President Trump has never looked more vulnerable to a primary challenge.”

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Longwell named three potential Republican challengers, including Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, former Ohio governor John Kasich and former Massachusetts governor William Weld (Weld was the Libertarian’s 2016 candidate for Vice President with Gary Johnson, former CEO of Cannabis Sativa, Inc. at the top of the ticket).

In a hypothetical Republican primary, according to a recent poll by Zogby Analytics, Trump dominates with 64% of likely Republican voters. Mitt Romney comes in second with 9%. John Kasich takes 8%. And Nikki Haley comes out with 6%.

Here’s a look at where a few of these potential GOP challengers stand in the war on weed:

U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT):
Mitt Romney was the GOP nominee in 2012, but lost to Barack Obama in a reasonably close general election (51.3% to 47.4%). At the time, Romney promised to fight medical marijuana “tooth and nail.” Captured on a video at a town hall event in New Hampshire, Romney said, “I would not legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.” He went on to recite the widespread myth that marijuana is a gateway drug for young people. He then added a little conspiracy twist, saying that “medical” marijuana was a trick “designed” to lead to the legalization of cannabis for adult use.

Romney also opposed cannabis legalization in his book, No Apology, in which he said that the cannabis legalization movement was being driven by, “the passion and zeal of those members of the pleasure-seeking generation that never grew up.”

More recently, during his 2018 campaign for U.S. Senate, the notorious flip-flopper said that he does indeed support medical marijuana, but he was opposed to Utah’s ballot initiative because it allowed stores to sell cannabis edibles, including candies. In a public debate in Utah, Romney said,

“This ballot initiative is really not medicinal marijuana. I support medicinal marijuana where a person with a condition receives a prescription from a real doctor, and it’s filled by a real pharmacy. That, in my opinion, is something that we ought to have, and we ought to move there as quickly as we possibly can to get the care that people…the help that they need as quickly as possible. But, at the same time, I recognize, as I look at this ballot initiative, that’s not what it is.”

Romney won the 2018 race for U.S. Senate in Utah by taking a whopping 62.6% of the vote. He won the Republican primary earlier in the year against Utah State Rep. Mike Kennedy by an even greater percentage, 71.3%.

On January 1, Romney published an op-ed in the Washington Post, arguing that, despite his earnest hope, “the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.” Supporting a handful of Trump’s conservative policies, Romney assailed Trump’s character and lack of integrity, saying that it is in this “province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.”

Now, some never-Trump conservatives (and Democrats) are wondering if Romney is the one to run a primary campaign against President Trump. As The Atlantic wrote, “No other Republican of his stature denounced Trump in such raw language, with the goal of halting Trump’s march to the nomination.” In a March 2016 speech, Romney held nothing back:

“Let me put it very plainly. If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.…Dishonesty is Donald Trump’s hallmark … He’s not of the temperament of the kind of stable, thoughtful person we need as a leader. His imagination must not be married to real power … Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing the members of the American public for suckers … He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president.”

Nevertheless, the odds are against Romney becoming the GOP’s 2020 nominee for president. If Romney were to become president, however, it is unlikely that he would support cannabis legalization. However, it is equally unlikely that Romney would oppose state medical cannabis laws. Given Romney’s lack of a firm position on cannabis, the odds are also against a President Romney wasting political capital in a fruitless attempt to reverse state recreational cannabis laws either.
GRADE: C

Former Ohio Governor John Kasich:
As the Governor of Ohio, Republican moderate John Kasich signed a strictly regulated medical marijuana bill into law on June 8, 2016. Kasich had originally been against medical marijuana, but his stand against cannabis softened during his presidential campaign as he learned more about its numerous benefits.

Yet, in March 2017, Kasich was still uncomfortable with cannabis. “I don’t like the whole thing—medical marijuana,” Kasich confessed, “It got passed because somebody was going to have a broader law.” The Ohio law allows cannabis for 21 different medical conditions.

Kasich argues that he is particularly concerned about the message marijuana legalization sends to kids. In an interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Kasich said, “The problem with marijuana is this: we don’t want to tell our kids, ‘Don’t do drugs, but by the way this drug is okay.’” Colbert responded, “Isn’t that what alcohol is?” But Kasich dodged.

More recently, the infamous Roger Stone, Trump’s former campaign advisor, took Kasich to task in the Daily Caller for failing to oversee the effective implementation of the medical marijuana law in Ohio. Stone first alleged that, back in 1976, Kasich was a former marijuana dealer: “I received numerous complaints that Kasich was dealing marijuana to other staffers and asked that he be moved to another area of the campaign.” A fierce cannabis supporter, Roger Stone then turned to Kasich’s “bungling of the implementation of Ohio’s medical marijuana program—designed and intended to provide relief to sick, suffering and dying patients…”

Kasich’s term as Governor ended January 14, 2019. Immediately afterwards Kasich joined CNN as a Senior Political Consultant. He is still rumored to be considering a 2020 campaign for president. If successful, it is unlikely that he would support full legalization. However, given his consistent stand against the criminalization of drug use (he supports treatment as opposed to punishment), Kasich would likely support the decriminalization and rescheduling of cannabis.
GRADE: C+

Former Massachusetts Governor William Weld:
William Weld, another former governor of Massachusetts (like Romney), is also rumored to be considering a 2020 bid for president. Weld was the Libertarian’s nominee for Vice President in 2016 (former Cannabis Sativa, Inc. CEO Gary Johnson said he will not run in 2020—though perhaps he will reconsider if enough public pressure builds).

Adamantly against Donald Trump, Mitt Romney considered endorsing the Libertarian ticket in the 2016 election as an alternative to Trump’s GOP. “If Bill Weld were at the top of the ticket, it would be very easy for me to vote for Bill Weld for president,” Romney told CNN. “So I’ll get to know Gary Johnson better and see if he’s someone who I could end up voting for. That’s something which I’ll evaluate over the coming weeks and months.”

Weld was registered as a Republican when he was the governor of Massachusetts, from 1991 to 1997, despite the fact that 75% of voters in the state were registered as Democrats. Even more surprising, Weld was re-elected in 1994 by the largest margin in the state’s history. Weld, 73, is now said to be considering a run for president. Meanwhile, according to NBC, the voter registration clerk in Canton just confirmed that “Weld recently changed his party registration to the GOP.”

But where does Weld stand on weed? As a libertarian-leaning New England Republican, Weld has long taken a more progressive stand when it comes to social issues such as marijuana. In 2016, Weld supported the ballot initiative in Massachusetts (Question 4) which, he said, “was the first time I’d come out for full legalization. And as the vice presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party,” Weld continued, “I was happy to endorse it and descheduling in the 2016 campaign, as opposed to an industry in the shadows that nobody can tax and which fosters organized crime and blackmail and that sort of thing. It’s like alcohol prohibition in the old days…forcing people to transact or live in the shadows is not good policy, as a prudential matter. It’s not good for the cohesion of society.”

In April 2018, Weld jumped into the marijuana legalization movement with both feet when he joined the board of a Canadian cannabis company, Acreage Holdings, the same company that former Speaker of the House John Boehner joined. At the time, arguing for a “shift in federal marijuana policy,” Weld said, “The effect of marijuana being a schedule class 1 narcotic in Washington is a seriously flawed idea. Descheduling is the most constructive step that could be taken.”

When a Boston Globe reporter asked Weld about his decision to get involved, Weld touted his long-term commitment to cannabis, “I’d…come out for medical marijuana in the ‘90s, for specific treatments—glaucoma, nausea for chemotherapy, that kind of thing. I’ve said for a long time that we should explore whether the active ingredients could alleviate symptoms and suffering. Now there’s new research showing it actually helps with cancer, schizophrenia, epilepsy, a lot of stuff. So for me it was an opportunity…to achieve a great social policy outcome. If we could get cannabis descheduled as a federal Class I narcotic, then research in 50 states could go ahead. For me, it was a win-win.”

Weld says he has evolved significantly on the issue of cannabis legalization. “I’ve moved considerably in the direction of thinking that possession of any drug shouldn’t be the subject of [prison] sentences at all. It should be treated as a national public health emergency.”

Weld also believes that cannabis could be an “exit drug from the ramp that leads to fentanyl,” he told the Globe, “as opposed to the gateway drug we thought it was in the ‘90s”

At this point, Weld still looks like a long-shot candidate, but if he does happen to come out on top, Weld can be counted on to support cannabis legalization.
GRADE: A

The Final Hurdle?
With all but three states now embracing at least some form of cannabis, the legalization movement is in full swing. And, yet, with marijuana prohibition still in effect at the federal level, the greatest hurdle has yet to be overcome.

With both bipartisan support in the House and Senate, as well as overwhelming support across the American electorate, winning the White House may just be the final coup cannabis needs to end prohibition once and for all.

As the primary season starts to heat up, presidential hopefuls from both parties must be forced to face up to the facts about cannabis, and the long record of injustices resulting from the foolish, failed, race-based war on weed. Then, in all probability, when the nominees finally emerge, we will at last have what we need to legalize weed.

Cannabis in the 2020 Primaries – an article by John Welch

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