In case you haven't noticed, we've entered the heart of election season. Within a few months, we'll know which major party candidates will be squaring off to become president of the United States, as well as get an in-depth look at how those candidates would tackle a number of issues held as important by the American public.
Among the major talking points in the 2020 presidential race is marijuana. As you may already know, cannabis has been legalized for medicinal use in 33 states, with 11 of these states also allowing for the adult consumption and/or sale of the product. Furthermore, Gallup's October 2019 poll found that a record-tying 66% of Americans favors legalization. A separate poll from the independent Quinnipiac University in April 2018 found that greater than 90% of Americans are in favor of physicians being able to prescribe medical pot.
In short, momentum is entirely on the side of those who want to see cannabis legalized, yet marijuana firmly remains a Schedule I drug at the federal level. This means it's illicit, prone to abuse, and not recognized as having any medical benefits.
Based on these surveys, Americans would like to see this classification for weed at the federal level changed. But would the next president consider making this move? Let's take a closer look at where nine of the most popular remaining presidential candidates stand on legalizing marijuana.
The legalize-it camp
Among the nine remaining candidates -- Donald Trump from the Republican Party and eight Democrats -- six have come out in favor of a policy that would lead to marijuana legalization at the federal level.
- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): Bernie Sanders has made very clear that legalizing cannabis is among his top priorities. Within the first 100 days, he plans to legalize marijuana with executive action, while also vacating and expunging all past marijuana-related convictions. Furthermore, he wants to keep Big Tobacco out of the cannabis industry and has a plan to ensure those that marijuana tax revenue collected goes to people and communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs.
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.): Like Sanders, Warren also confirmed that, if elected president, she would use executive action to remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances. This is no surprise, given that Warren has co-sponsored a number of cannabis reform bills, including the STATES Act and CARERS Act.
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.): Senator Klobuchar was quick to offer her stance on cannabis last February. Said Klobuchar, "I support the legalization of marijuana and believe that states should have the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders."
- Pete Buttigieg (D): Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has also made clear that he favors working with lawmakers in Congress to legalize pot at the federal level. Similar to Sanders, Buttigieg has spoken of the social injustice caused by the War on Drugs and wants to combat those problems firsthand while in office.
- Tom Steyer (D): Hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, though lesser-known than some of his competition, is also in favor of legalizing weed. Earlier this month, Steyer released a plan calling for the legalization of cannabis and the decriminalization of opioids. Steyer has also called for a national referendum that would allow Americans to decide whether certain drugs, including weed, should be legalized.
- Andrew Yang (D): Entrepreneur Andrew Yang is also very much in the legalize-it camp. Yang, who's most famous for his call to provide $1,000 in universal basic income to all Americans, favors the idea of legalizing pot and decriminalizing opioids for personal use.
Signs point to the status quo for these candidates
On the other hand, there are three candidates who appear more likely to support the status quo of allowing states the right to legalize and regulate their own cannabis industries, but keeping federal law unchanged from its current Schedule I classification.
- Donald Trump (R): Although President Trump claimed to be "100 percent" behind the idea of legalizing medical marijuana while on the campaign trail before his 2016 election, he's been generally quiet on the issue since being elected. What stands out, though, is Trump's appointment of now-former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, considering that Sessions was perhaps Capitol Hill's most ardent opponent of the marijuana legalization movement. While the door hasn't be closed to reforms while under Trump's watch, he seems to be more than happy to allow the status quo to continue.
- Joe Biden (D): There's no question that former Vice President Joe Biden's stance on marijuana has softened considerably over many decades. Biden was a driving force behind the War on Drugs in the late 1980s and early 1990s. While Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates told CNN in 2019 that Biden favors the idea of allowing states to make their own decisions, he's never proclaimed that changing federal policy is a move he'd make. Considering Biden's views on the issue dating back 30-plus years, the status quo seems a likely outcome, were he to be elected president.
- Michael Bloomberg (D): Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is another candidate who previously cracked down on cannabis violations. While mayor between 2002 and 2013, cannabis-related arrests spiked higher in New York City, with the now-former mayor frequently voting against proposals that would have led to court summonses and fines rather than arrests for persons possessing small amount of cannabis. Though Bloomberg has attempted to atone for his previous harsh stance on pot, he's unlikely to stand behind a full legalization of the drug at the federal level.
Investing in cannabis? Here's what this means for you
Not only does the upcoming election have implications for the tens of millions of Americans who use or purchase marijuana-related products, but it can also affect investors in one of the fastest-growing industries on the planet.
Even if one of the six candidates who've vowed to legalize recreational marijuana is elected as the next president, Congress is no shoo-in to follow suit. Support for the rescheduling or descheudling of cannabis is likely going to depend on the political make-up of Congress. Historically, Republicans have a more adverse view on marijuana. This means that as long as Republicans control the Senate, marijuana reform measures can be blocked from reaching the floor for vote.
For investors focusing on the U.S., the most lucrative marijuana market in the world, the safest bet would be to focus on vertically integrated operators that are keyed in on a select few high-dollar markets. It also doesn't hurt to target pot stocks that are already generating an operating profit, or are darn close to it.
For example, Trulieve Cannabis (OTC:TCNNF) has a presence in four states, but is almost entirely devoting its efforts to the medical marijuana-legal state of Florida. Since legalizing medical pot in the Sunshine State, Trulieve has managed to open 40 dispensaries. By keeping its expenses close to the vest and focusing on building up its brand within its home state, Trulieve has gobbled up the lion's share of what could easily become the third-largest market in the U.S. by 2024, in terms of annual sales. Plus, no marijuana company in North America is generating as much no-nonsense operating profit right now than Trulieve Cannabis.
There's still a lot of card-shuffling left to be done when it comes to election season, but investors would be wise to keep a close eye on the candidates and their views of the green rush.