With Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump notching primary victories in Iowa and New Hampshire this month, legal marijuana proponents and opponents gained insight into whether the next commander in chief is likely to advance pro-pot legislation or enforce federal marijuana laws at the state level.
What could be in store for the marijuana movement if Sanders, Clinton, Cruz, or Trump wins in November? Read on to find out.
Hillary's wait-and-see approach
When it comes to marijuana policy, Hillary believes that states can serve as a testing ground for national policy.
Generally, the former Secretary of State advocates watchful waiting when it comes to marijuana legalization, but she does support shifting marijuana to a class II drug from a class I drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
With marijuana designated as a class I drug, research on the substance highly restricted. Making the switch to class II could make it easier for researchers to study marijuana and gain greater insight into marijuana quality, dosing, and the prescription drugs to avoid when using it.
Hillary also says we should stop imprisoning people for marijuana use, though declaring marijuana a class II drug wouldn't eliminate the risk that the federal government will intervene at the state level and enforce federal marijuana laws. Therefore it's uncertain how she plans to reduce imprisonment for marijuana use.
Overall, Clinton may be best described as a cautious supporter of marijuana legalization.
A failed policy
When compared to Bernie Sanders' position, Clinton's marijuana stance appears downright conservative.
The Vermont Senator argues that the war on drugs is a bust and that its failure is acutely evident when measuring its impact on marijuana users, especially minorities, who have been found to be incarcerated more frequently for marijuana possession than other Americans.
"We have 2.2 million people in jail today, more than any other country. And we're spending $80 billion a year to lock people up. We need major changes in our criminal justice system -- including changes in drug laws," said Bernie Sanders at George Mason University in October.
Sanders believes that treating nonviolent drug offenders for drug dependency is a far better policy than incarcerating them. To that end, he supports removing marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act altogether. In November, Sanders introduced legislation to do that, and if it's passed, states would gain greater freedom to make their own decisions regarding marijuana without fear of federal intervention. Sanders move would also remove obstacles to the marijuana industry's use of banking services caused by money-laundering laws.
Overall, Sanders' opinions make him the most pro-marijuana presidential candidate.
Not a fan
Because Ted Cruz previously criticized President Obama for failing to enforce federal marijuana laws in states like Colorado with pro-pot laws, the Texas Senator may be the biggest skeptic of the marijuana movement out of these candidates.
Cruz has since softened his stance on enforcing federal laws in pot-friendly states, saying that while he disagrees with their conclusion, he thinks the federal government should "recognize that the citizens of those states have made that decision."
Cruz's willingness to allow states to determine their own marijuana laws is good news for pro marijuana advocates, but he's also said he'd vote against marijuana if it gets on the Texas ballot. That could mean he'll use his clout to convince people to vote against marijuana at the polls, but that's uncertain.
State by state
The Marijuana Policy Project gives Donald Trump a C+ rating for his marijuana policy, and while that's a bit higher than Cruz's C rating, Trump hasn't said a lot about the subject on the campaign trail.
Back in the early 1990s, Trump said that legalization should be on the table because we were losing the war on drugs; however, last fall, he said he opposes legalizing recreational marijuana.
Trump does, however, support medical marijuana, arguing that medical marijuana "should happen." Trump also agrees with Cruz that the matter is really up to the states.
Tying it together
Sanders is the strongest proponent of marijuana legalization, and Cruz is the biggest opponent. Generally speaking, the Democratic candidates appear more willing to decriminalize marijuana than the Republicans do, and Republicans seem more comfortable leaving marijuana decisions up to individual states.
Based on what these candidates have said so far, it appears all of them are at least willing to keep the door open to more widespread legalization at the state level. If so, that would appear mostly in keeping with the average Joe's opinion: 58% of Americans favor legalization, 23 states have adopted medical marijuana laws, and four states have embraced recreational marijuana laws already.
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