Marijuana Legalization and the Presidential Election

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel March 21, 2016

    The Trump Factor

    The current campaign on the Republican side, which has been dominated by Donald Trump, has been the most incredible spectacle of the several presidential campaigns of my lifetime. I am an old guy, so I’ve seen quite a few. The hate-filled, racist campaigns of George Wallace (1964, 68 and 72), based on a platform of racial segregation and appealing to the anger of white southerners, are the most similar to the current Trump campaign. Most of us had believed those hateful and divisive times were far behind us. Then came The Donald.

    It is not just Trump. Despite an economy that has bounced back from the “great recession,” creating millions of new jobs and lowering unemployment to the lowest levels in many years, the abiding theme on the Republican side is anger. Republican primary voters are angry at elected officials, at immigrants, at Muslims and apparently at anyone and everyone who looks (or thinks) differently than they do.

    The Republican party appears on the verge of handing themselves and their presidential nomination to a dangerous demagogue who is openly and proudly racist, sexist, ignorant, offensive, uncivil, ill-tempered and incredibly narcissistic. Having encouraged the Tea Party extremists to find a comfortable home in the right-wing of their party, the Republicans are now discovering the inmates have taken over the institution, and they clearly do not know what to do about it.

    Personally, as a liberal/progressive Democrat, I can, to some degree, enjoy witnessing the vulgar spectacle the Republican campaign has become – sort of like watching a demolition derby at a stock car race where the winner is determined by who is finally left standing after all the other cars have been destroyed. We know we should not allow ourselves to enjoy such a dangerous spectacle, but it’s impossible to look the other way.

    As we witness the political food fight, most of us have some concern that so many of our fellow citizens – clearly not a majority, but a substantial portion of the Republican party base – would identify with and support such a despicable candidate and his hateful, divisive rhetoric. While the likelihood that Trump could actually be elected president is low, the possibility is absolutely frightening for a majority of Americans.

    The Election May Not Be Significant for Marijuana Policy

    Surprisingly, the result of the presidential election will likely have little significant impact on marijuana policy.

    Since a majority in Congress remain hostile to the possibility of legalizing marijuana, there is little chance that federal marijuana laws will change dramatically for the next few years, regardless of who is president. We may be successful at eliminating the problems legal growers and dispensaries currently experience finding a bank that will handle their business account or process their credit card transactions, but other anti-marijuana federal laws will likely remain in place for several more years.

    The successful state-based strategy of the legalization movement will largely remain in place, and all of the remaining candidates agree that the states should be permitted to continue to experiment with marijuana legalization. Senator Bernie Sanders holds the most progressive marijuana position, favoring full legalization, but as you will see below, none of the three candidates who remain most viable appear to present a threat to the continued success of the legalization movement.

    Trump and Marijuana

    As with most policy issues, it seems impossible for Trump to decide what his marijuana policy is. Going back to 1990, Donald Trump actually called for the legalization of all drugs, saying “We’re losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war.”

    By 2015 when speaking at the Conservative Political Caucus, Trump had changed his mind, stating his opposition to legalizing marijuana. “I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about that,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems.” Trump waffled again on the Bill O’Reilly show on Fox News in February of this year and indicated he was ambivalent about legalizing marijuana, saying “… in some ways it’s good, and in other ways it’s bad.”

    When pushed about what he would do about the states that have already legalized marijuana, Trump said he would leave those states alone. “If they vote for it, they vote for it.” At a Nevada campaign rally in October 2015, he further clarified that position. “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state.”

    He did stress he is “100 percent” in favor of medical marijuana, citing his personal familiarity with patients who had benefited from medical marijuana.

    Trump claims he has never smoked marijuana, nor ever had a drink of alcohol or used tobacco.

    Clinton and Marijuana

    Hillary Clinton, like most establishment politicians, has gradually evolved in her views toward marijuana, starting as a true drug warrior, and more recently moderating her views to accommodate the changing public attitudes toward marijuana use.

    Clinton says she favors moving marijuana from Schedule I down to Schedule II under federal law to allow for more research on the drug and she has finally endorsed the medical use of marijuana.

    Most importantly, she has made it clear she will permit the states to continue to experiment with full legalization, referring to them as “laboratories of democracy.”

    “These statewide experiments can help us point the way to national policy, so I’ll continue the Obama Administration’s enforcement guidelines that allow states to experiment. … I really believe it’s important that states like Colorado lead the way, so that we can learn what works and what doesn’t work. And I would certainly not want the federal government to interfere with the legal decision made by the people of Colorado … I want to give you the space and I want other states to learn from you, what works and what doesn’t work.”

    She has also said “We have got to stop imprisoning people who use marijuana.”

    Clinton claims she has never smoked marijuana.

    Sanders and Marijuana

    Bernie Sanders clearly has the most favorable marijuana position, saying “The time is long overdue for us to remove the federal prohibition on marijuana.” He has also acknowledged that he tried marijuana on a few occasions when he was younger.

    In November of 2015 he introduced The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act in Congress, calling for the removal of marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act, and for the states to decide for themselves whether they want to legalize marijuana, free from interference from the federal government.

    “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.”

    While we all experience what has become an especially unpleasant campaign season, at least it appears that we need not worry that the results of the campaign will undermine the legalization movement, regardless of who eventually wins.


    This column first ran on Marijuana.com.



    57 responses to “Marijuana Legalization and the Presidential Election”

    1. John says:

      Although Donald Trump may be ambivalent towards both medical and legalization at the moment, I’m not at all convinced that he can be trusted to stick to any position. In regards to his policies, don’t forget to factor in the man who is angling for Attorney General or VP named Chris Christie who is 100% against anything and everything having to do with marijuana.

      Trusting Trump to stick to any policy based on whatever comes out of his mouth at any moment is not something I would feel comfortable doing and is yet one more reason to support anyone else.

    2. Tom says:

      Donald Trump is not a racist. If that’s all you hear in his speeches then you aren’t listening. Alienating republicans is not going to help end prohibition ether. Stop wagging your finger at your self made delusions and focus for a minute, Pot isn’t the only thing were voting on. Getting democrats out off office would be a better goal if you cant keep up with current politics.

      • sk says:

        First of all, Trump promotes a racist message. Most recently White Supremacists and other White Nationalist groups have publicly announced their support for Trump. Trump has failed to denounce their support. There are dozens of examples where Trump has used race and anti-Islamism to solidify his support. Any politicians who supports a third-Reich inspired a registry of Muslims should not be listened to. Period.

        Second, this is a marijuana legalization activism group. NORML has no, nor should it have, a position on things like The Economy or Education.

        While I agree that some of the rhetoric about Trump is beside the point, the GOP has fallen short of their values of personal responsibility and freedom on the issue of marijuana and as a party has consistently opposed legalization. Now that Trump is a Republican, he too opposes legalization.

        I agree it probably shouldn’t matter to NORML if you’re not voting for Trump on grounds that he’s an anti-islamist who welcomes the support of white supremacists. All that NORML should be concerned with is that Trump doesn’t support legalization of marijuana.

        It should be left up to us if we’re willing to elect someone like Trump into office despite of that.

        But saying that NORML should be fair and balanced is just absurd when it comes to Trump is just absurd. It’s shouldn’t be NORMLs goal to inform you about where Trump stands on all the issues, only Marijuana.

        Where I think Mr. Stroup has gone wrong here is that he spent a lot of time talking about why we shouldn’t vote for trump on issues other than Marijuana.

        Trump’s policy on marijuana is one of many issues that I do not personally support.

        • Ron Madsen says:

          To be fair to Keith, when Trumpet spews his vitriol, it hits everything and splatters. A normal (no pun intended) person can’t help but include mention of his vulgar presence when discussing any subject.

      • Julian says:

        (Sigh, here we go again)…

        “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” (That would be the very definition of discriminating racism… Political segregation).

        “When these people walk in the room, they don’t say, ‘Oh, hello! How’s the weather? It’s so beautiful outside. Isn’t it lovely? How are the Yankees doing? Oh they’re doing wonderful. Great.’ [Asians] say, ‘We want a Deal.” (Because that’s not what Trump ever does)…

        “You haven’t been called, go back to Univision.”

        (Then a Trump campaign administrator told Jorge Ramos): “Go back to your country.” (To which the response by Jorge Ramos was): “I am in my country. I am a U.S. Citizen.”
        (Admin.) “Oh well then go back to Univision.”
        (Which is HQd in Miami, USA… Uuggggh… 8 more months of this $#!+ till November?)

        “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.” (Never mind that the fact that violence and drug war refugees are spilling across our southern border are the direct cause of decades if made to fail US drug policy and corporate exploitation through the CIA and US”AID”)

        “I have a great relationship with the blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks.”
        (Really? “The blacks”?)

        Soooo… Trump is a racist. We should be glad that the Presidential elections are more about what Congressman we vote for than the presidency as it affects marijuana policy because Trump is a pathological liar who is running the playbook out of Harry Anslinger, using racism to disguise Machiavellian policies for his own narcissistic profit.

        • Julian says:

          Correction; I meant “Drumph,” not Trump, #MakeTrumpDrumphAgain

        • Cat Cassie says:

          You are so right. And the people that flock to him like there in a trance or something. They don’t care what he says or what threats he makes. Wow this could get really scary.

      • sinsibility says:

        Ending the violent enforcement of marijuana prohibition and stopping the drug war’s radioactive fallout are strong reasons to vote in your primaries/caucuses for the candidate who’s had a consistent viewpoint for decades now.
        Bernie is the only one making it a priority that we heal the wounds of failed divide & conquer/create an enemy political strategy.
        Trump is not unifying us with his hateful rhetoric.
        Words to remember: One nation, under God, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for all.
        A drug war is not possible when these words guide our actions.

      • Galileo Galilei says:

        Seems to me it’s the Republicans who have alienated us for decades. I plan to switch to the Republican party for this coming primary to vote against a local sanctimonious zealot who chose to use his power to nullify the will of over 70% of some inner-city black voters in DC. I’m switching back right away, but not to Independent anymore – to Democrat.

        I’ve never felt better about it.

      • Evening Bud says:

        @ Tom,

        With all due respect, I’ve been reading and writing posts on this site for 6 or 7 years now–geez, has it been that long?–and when I first got here, I saw a veritable feeding-frenzy of attacks on Obama. The economy wasn’t improving fast enough; he was gonna send in his jack-booted thugs to arrest all MMJ smokers; take away everyone’s guns, etc etc.

        And I don’t remember ever seeing a Republican posting a message for his fellow GOPers to stop the attacks and insults, if for no other reason than that they might alienate Democrats or liberals (the majority of whom, unlike GOPers, have supported legalization since I’ve been on these boards).

        So, you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t rush to the defense of a GOPer candidate. Maybe when Republicans actually start supporting legalization in majority numbers, I might consider heeding their complaints. As matters stand now, however, I see them as the main impediment to national legalization.

        • mexweed says:

          “Republicans main impediment to cannabis legalization”– for decades Big 2WackGo has been giving twice as much (listed) campaign money to Reps as to Dems, get it?

          Not just because of Substitution 1 (low-profit cannabis instead of high profit nicotinaddictive tobacco).

          Substitution 2: Vape instead of $moke– users will get less or no carbon monoxide to dumm them down causing careless money$pending like on addiction habits hucksters pander to.

          Substitution 3: single-toke 25-mg microinhalant vapetoast utensil (flexdrawtube one-hitter) instead of high-waste, high-profit 700-mg $igarette (or 500+mg HBOMP Joint or Blunt).

          Warn EVERY Republican: U will vote for NO Republican until EVERY Republican does something about nicotine monoxide genocide– which means vote to legalize cannabis! Oh say, can they join Bernie in authorizing government Expenditures to retrain and restart careers of former tobacco farmers and $igarette industry workers?

          • Evening Bud says:

            @ Mexweed,

            Some bad habits are hard to break it seems–$moking cigarettes and taking donation$ from big tobacco!

    3. Cat Cassie says:

      I am a registered Democrat and I will vote for Bernie or Hillary. I don’t trust Trump because he flip flops too much and he is best buds with Christie who would gladly continue to have militarized thugs keep busting down our doors and shooting our dogs in the middle of the night all in the name of “Because I Said So”

    4. Gene says:

      What about Cruz?

      • gwennygoblin says:

        I’m betting Cruz is staunchly against ending the drug war in any way. This would be good to know for sure as well as Romney’s position since it’s looking like a bigger chance at this point we’re heading for a contested convention. I suppose we’ll find out quickly if Cruz or Romney wind up getting the nomination. Romney might oddly be open to continuing Obama’s policies.

    5. Don M says:

      I wouldn’t vote for Trump for a million dollars. The terrible guilt I’d feel would make enjoying that million impossible.

      It pisses me off that Hilary will probably be the other option. Seriously, if these are the 2 we end up having to choose from, I am embarrassed for the United States of America. There is zero doubt in my mind that there are much better people out there in our great country.

      I, reluctantly, will probably cast my vote for Hilary, just to help this country avoid a Trump/Christie nightmare, but I am not one bit happy with her hardline position on marijuana. Rescheduling it to schedule 2 is ignorant and cowardly in my opinion.

      If Hilary would just admit the terrible failure of marijuana prohibition and promise to end it, I would happily cast my vote for her.

      • sinsibility says:

        Do all that you can. Vote on primary day.
        None of this is a done deal, no matter what the Mainstream media tells you.

      • Julian says:

        I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments.

        But knowing that in lieu of a landslide in all of Bernie’s subsequent elections, we will probably have Hillary to deal with, ( who will pick a center-right justice to replace Scalia),
        And knowing that even if Democrats win the Senate we still have obstructionists in the House,
        And knowing now that the Supreme Court and the DOJ rejected Nebraska and Oklahoma v. Colorado because the hubris of the plaintiff states jumped heads and didn’t file in a lower court…

        This means the Federal legislative and Executive branches are all but locked up on marijuana policy, playing dodge ball with conflicting state marijuana laws. And the Judicial is locked up until elections;

        My questions now go to the Judicial branch;
        If the Supreme Court is divided up, doesn’t that mean any one who DOES go through a lower court, gets their lower court’s decision to stand if the Supreme Court rejects the case?

        Since their lawsuit against Colorado was filed, sheriffs from several states and an anti-crime group have sued Colorado in lower courts.

        Will any of these lower courts let the evil Sherriffs of Not-in-my-court hear a case against Colorado in the Supreme court?

        If this happens, and an Apellate or Federal Court awards damages, can Colorado counterclaim damages based on changes in law in Vermont, and majority rule for medical marijuana during elections to challenge schedule 1 on Constitutional grounds and delay until a more liberal judge is appointed?

        Colorado needs to sanction the so-called “anti-crime” andSherriff’s Associations of Oklahoma and Nebraska, flush their evidence, and prove these groups are CAUSING a collusion of crime and violence and at least delay these cases in lower courts until next year when the Supreme Court will be much more favorable to challenging the Controlled Substances Act.

      • Anonymous says:

        If you’re that reluctant to vote for Hilary (and understand that socialism is not the political antichrist and what it actually does and stands for), then maybe vote for Bernie? Worse case scenario if he doesn’t get the nomination? Then you vote for Hilary later on. But Sanders does poll better against Trump than HRC does vice versa. Too many Republicans, Democrats and independents would rather not vote at all or vote Republican just out of sheer spite for HRC. Plus, Bernie’s odds of winning are not as poor as TV ‘news’ makes it sound.

        • Don M says:

          I did, in fact, vote for Bernie Sanders in the Virginia primary! As far as I’m concerned, socialism just might be a big improvement over America’s distorted/perverted version of Democracy; where the rich and powerful seem to make all the decisions and laws!

    6. Galileo Galilei says:

      Thanks, Keith. This is a very sober assessment of a potential candidate for Commander in Chief who seems permanently mired in his terrible twos.

      How ironic my current favorite GOPer is Kaisch, a risible, calcified good old-fashion, hang ’em all drug war zealot.

      It’s weird, man. After preaching vote marijuana first and foremost for some time, I plan to vote against this irascible, trumped-up toddler no matter what he says about weed.

    7. Mark says:

      Great and informative article.

      There is a lot of controversy and unanswered questions about marijuana legalization in 2016 Presidential Race. I would like to share some more resources about this topic
      Donald Trump on marijuana – http://marijuanareform.org/donald-trump-on-marijuana-legalization/
      Hillary Clinton VS Bernie Sanders on marijuana – http://marijuanareform.org/hillary-clinton-vs-bernie-sanders-on-marijuana/
      It is surprising that Hillary’s stand on marijuana legalization is not really clear.

    8. Julian says:

      If we ever needed more evidence that we need more leadership at the Federal level to change Federal law, check this out;


      The Supreme Court refused to hear the case of Oklahoma and Nebraska vs. Colorado today, and asked President Obama to “weigh in” to create a verdict;

      “The justices had asked the Obama administration to weigh in, and the Justice Department responded by urging the court to stay out of the case.”

      Interesting the Supreme Court looked to the President for leadership on the issue;

      “Entertaining the type of dispute at issue here — essentially that one state’s laws make it more likely that third parties will violate federal and state law in another state — would represent a substantial and unwarranted expansion of this court’s original jurisdiction,” Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said.”

      So with a divided government during a split court and an obstructionist Congress, perhaps the courts and the presidency really DO matter on defining marijuana policy at the Federal level?
      What else can we do when Congress “doesn’t need to be right” (according to Federal judge Mueller), but the Supreme Court by next year will receive a liberal majority, a majority of states with legal medical marijuana and possibly one state, Vermont, to legalize legislatively? Are the courts going to get us descheduled faster than Congress?

      • Julian says:

        Noted a contradiction in my Supreme Court justice replacement contradiction, (liberal or center right) I retract my predictions, but remain vigilant that delaying lower court challenges from Sherriff’s Associations and “anti-crime” collusions filing against Colorado until next year is the best way to go… Sanction their lawyers, flush their case, drop the sanctions then counterclaim, appeal into next year, and by then we have majority of states medical and hopefully the Senate and a majority of the Supreme court favorable to marijuana legalization and against the CSAct. Its called kick the can… Or hot potato…Thats all Obama is doing isn’t it? (Could be worse…)

        • Galileo Galilei says:

          Congress ‘doesn’t need to be right’.

          This is one of my all time favorites. Gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘politically correct’.

          • Julian says:

            It makes one wonder if we’re missing a fourth Fact-checking-Scientific Branch of the government?

    9. Edward Jenkins says:

      I sure hope you are right about Hillary. It’s looking like it’s going to be Trump or her, and I’m not fond of either.

    10. Daniel San says:

      I keep reading that the Trump supporters are angry. This isn’t the right description though. They are afraid not angry. Afraid of the ‘other’. Afraid of their future because they haven’t adapted. Afraid of the change that is coming.
      We need to stop coddling them and make it abundantly clear that change is coming and rather than fearing it they should embrace it.