The remaining eight presidential candidates (two Democrats and six Republicans) have a slew of hot-button issues that they're itching to tackle. Social Security, healthcare reform, and national security are all toward the top of the list. However, if the candidates were to listen to the American public, they'd be tackling the marijuana debate head on.
Marijuana's unstoppable momentum
Since California first legalized medical marijuana in 1996, 22 additional states, along with Washington, D.C., have followed suit. In addition to patients having access to new pathways of treatments for a variety of diseases (including glaucoma and certain terminal cancers in most states) residents in four states -- Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska -- have OK'd the use of recreational marijuana.
The numbers, both sales and polls, show that Americans are very much excited about the potential expansion of marijuana. Gallup's latest marijuana poll released in October showed that a whopping 58% of respondents would like to see marijuana legalized. This tied the highest percentage on record for a Gallup poll on marijuana's favorability, and it's up substantially from the 25% favorability registered just two decades ago. Favorability toward medical marijuana is even more robust, with 84% of respondents from a CBS News poll in 2015 expressing that they'd like to see the substance approved for medical use.
State regulators are also thrilled with the early results -- and it's causing non-legal states to take a second look. Colorado wound up reporting nearly $1 billion in sales in 2015, and Washington totaled more than a half-billion in sales. Tax and licensing revenue being generated from retail marijuana sales has been a big help in adding funding to Colorado's education system, as well as its law enforcement budget.
Here's your cheat sheet on where the remaining eight candidates stand on marijuana:
Legalize it all
Bernie Sanders: There aren't too many candidates in this year's election that are willing to take the previously taboo stance of calling for marijuana's full legalization, both medically and recreationally, at the federal level, but this year Democratic Party candidate Bernie Sanders has done just that.
In fact, Sanders introduced legislation, known as the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, in the Senate during November, making his views on the illicit substance very clear. While Sanders has stated that marijuana "wasn't for him," he views the drug war on marijuana as wasting government resources. If you are strongly in favor of sweeping marijuana legislation, Bernie Sanders is the candidate you'll want to be closely monitoring.
Legalize medical marijuana, recreational maybe
Donald Trump: Another controversial, non-establishment candidate that's drawing a lot of attention in this election is Donald Trump. Although Trump has mostly made waves for his views on immigration, Trump has potentially gained some supporters based on his views of marijuana.
When it comes to recreational marijuana, Donald Trump has proposed more of a wait-and-see approach. In a recent interview on Fox News, Trump iterated that he wanted to "see what the medical effects are." However, when pressed for his opinion on medical marijuana, Trump noted that he was "a hundred percent" in favor of medical marijuana's legalization.
Support states' rights, but not federal legalization
Ted Cruz: Viewed as one of the Republican front-runners, Ted Cruz has taken a view on marijuana that pretty much supports the status quo. Cruz went on the record in April 2015 on the Hugh Hewitt Show saying marijuana's legislation is an issue states should be allowed to deal with. Cruz said at the time that it's "appropriate for the federal government to recognize that the citizens of [Colorado and Washington] have made that decision."
On the flipside, Cruz has also suggested that if a marijuana initiative were brought up in his home state of Texas he would vote no. He's also previously criticized (in 2014) the Obama administration for allowing states to legalize marijuana. If Cruz becomes president, don't expect much to change.
Hillary Clinton: Clinton, the other Democratic Party front-runner, has a far less progressive view from her main rival Bernie Sanders, although it's worth noting that Clinton's stance on marijuana has evolved in line with the opinion of the general public.
When it comes to medical marijuana Clinton is completely in favor of ongoing research into the potential benefits of the drug, but would likely restrict access (until all the safety data is in) to extreme cases of need/compassionate use. By a similar token, Clinton has taken a wait-and-see approach to recreational marijuana. She doesn't appear to have an issue with states legalizing and regulating the drug on their own, but she's been clear that nothing would change federally until a complete safety profile of marijuana has been established.
Mostly against it
Marco Rubio: Florida senator Marco Rubio, one of the leading presidential candidates for the Republican Party, has a generally negative approach to marijuana's momentum. In fact, if he became president he'd consider using his "Marcomentum" to stamp out recreational use of the drug entirely. When questioned on Meet the Press in August 2015, Rubio clearly stated that he'd enforce the federal law when it comes to recreational marijuana. He's previously been on the record suggesting that there's no responsible way for recreational marijuana to be used.
However, Rubio is open to lifting the federal ban on medical marijuana if it's shown by the Food and Drug Administration to demonstrate medical benefits. Researchers are still gathering plenty of data on marijuana, so it'll likely be years before they have enough data to take to lawmakers.
Jeb Bush: Former Florida governor and Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush joins a very crowded field of candidates that still stand mostly against legalizing marijuana. Bush has generally avoided discussing marijuana during debates, but he's taken a pretty one-sided stance against the substance.
During the September GOP debate, Bush announced that while he had tried marijuana in his younger days, he views drug use in general, which includes marijuana, as a serious problem. He also voiced that he had voted no to a medical marijuana law in his home state of Florida.
It is worth mentioning that Bush has somewhat supported compassionate use of medical marijuana, but in general he views marijuana to be a gateway drug regardless of whether it's for medicinal or recreational purposes.
Ben Carson: Republican presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson takes one of the toughest stances on marijuana among the remaining candidates. While speaking with Glenn Beck in October, Carson announced, without hesitation, that he would "intensify" the war on drugs, and that he completely disagreed with the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana. Carson went on to argue that he believed marijuana was a gateway drug to considerably more harmful and/or addictive and damaging substances.
The one ray of sunshine for marijuana supporters is that Carson does believe marijuana could be helpful in instances of medical compassionate use.
John Kasich: Ohio governor and Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich joins Rubio, Bush, and Carson among those who offer very limited support of marijuana as a whole. Following the defeat of Issue 3 in Ohio this past November, which would have legalized medical and recreational marijuana, Kasich went on the record with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show by reinforcing his belief that recreational marijuana "is a terrible idea." Kasich's main concern revolves around the perceived double-standard of telling kids not to do drugs, but that marijuana is OK.
On the other hand, Kasich is for the idea of decriminalizing marijuana so the vast majority of offenses aren't jailable, and he would push for medical marijuana legalization if, and only if, the FDA determined that it was safe and offered medical benefits.
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