Whether you're ready for it or not, election season is now in full swing. Roughly a dozen candidates still remain in the field to become president, including incumbent Republican Donald Trump, and quite a few Democratic contenders.
While there are a number of issues that'll be debated during this election season, it's liable to be the first presidential election cycle where marijuana really takes center stage. After all, a record-tying 66% of Americans favor legalizing cannabis nationally, according to Gallup, with an April 2018 poll from the independent Quinnipiac University finding that better than 9 in 10 Americans supports patient access to medical marijuana.
Knowing exactly where the candidates stand on cannabis is going to be important for cannabis users, workers, and pot stock investors. With that being said, let's take a closer look at current President Donald Trump's views on marijuana.
Donald Trump favors the status quo
As you're probably well aware, marijuana has firmly remained a Schedule I substance at the federal level in the three-plus years that Trump has been in the Oval Office. As a Schedule I substance, it's illicit, prone to abuse, and is not recognized as having any medical benefits. This classification has proved a hindrance in terms of obtaining nondilutive forms of financing for U.S. pot stocks, and it allows Section 280E of the U.S. tax code to come into play, thereby allowing for few, if any, corporate tax deductions.
Yet in spite of keeping marijuana's scheduling unchanged, Trump has firmly offered his support for states having the right to legalize and regulate their own weed industries. In August 2019, Steven Nelson of DC Examiner asked Trump whether marijuana would be legalized under his presidency, to which he replied, "We're going to see what's going on. It's a very big subject and right now we are allowing states to make that decision. A lot of states are making that decision, but we're allowing states to make that decision."
As a reminder, 33 states have legalized medical marijuana since 1996, with 11 of those states also allowing the consumption and/or retail of adult-use pot. This includes Illinois, which became the first state to approve the consumption and sale of recreational marijuana entirely at the legislative level.
What this suggests is that Trump is liable to maintain the status quo if reelected to a second term. Although he stated that he was "100 percent" behind the idea of medical marijuana being prescribed by a physician during his 2015-2016 campaign, the president seems perfectly fine side-stepping the issue at the federal level in its entirety and allowing individual states to make their own decisions.
Here are some of Trump's most questionable cannabis decisions
While there's certainly some solace in Trump's statement that he plans to allow states to continue to decide their future with regard to legalizing marijuana, the president has also made a number of questionable decisions that suggest he might be more anti-cannabis than he lets on.
As an example, Trump initially hired former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general. It was no secret at the time of the hiring that Sessions was an ardent opponent of cannabis. While as attorney general, Sessions tried to convince fellow lawmakers in Congress to repeal certain cannabis protections that would allow him and the Justice Department to use federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana businesses in legal states. Though Sessions resigned following the 2018 midterm elections, his selection as Attorney General by Trump is a head-scratcher for marijuana enthusiasts.
Another questionable decision came as recently as December 2019, when Trump attached a signing statement to a federal funding bill that was signed into law. Presidents typically attach signing statements to legislation that they believe could impede their executive authority. In this instance, the signing statement, while vague, suggests that President Trump would have the authority to uphold federal law in accordance with his constitutional responsibilities. Again, while it's unlikely that Trump would ignore previously passed protections for medical marijuana businesses, this signing statement, in theory, would allow him to do exactly that.
Here's what a Trump reelection would mean for the marijuana industry and pot stocks
So, what exactly would a Trump reelection mean for the U.S. cannabis industry and investors? The answer is probably more of the same.
There is a possibility that cannabis banking reform could work its way down the pipeline, even if marijuana remains illicit at the federal level. However, for this to happen, we'd need to see Republican leaders in the Senate soften their stance. For example, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) has offered a number of counterproposals to the Safe and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act that'd severely limit its benefits. Meanwhile, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has routinely blocked any cannabis legislation or riders from reaching the floor for vote. Without significant changes in the political make-up of the Senate, or at least a softening of the upper house's stance on pot, banking reform is probably off the table.
But even with these challenges, we should see quite a few states legalizing medical and/or recreational marijuana. In the November 2020 election, I'd be surprised if New Jersey and Arizona failed to legalize adult-use cannabis, with Florida and New York likely candidates to do the same by or before 2022.
For some vertically integrated multistate operators (MSO) in the U.S., the status quo isn't such a bad thing. Curaleaf Holdings (CURLF 0.51%), for instance, has secured traditional financing and looks to be well on its way to being a leading MSO. Curaleaf, assuming it completes its acquisition of privately held Grassroots, should be the first pot stock to hit $1 billion in annual sales. Not to mention, Curaleaf's 53 operational dispensaries is the current high-water mark among MSOs. A continuation of the status quo would be just fine.
Meanwhile, the status quo wouldn't be as well-received for Canada's Canopy Growth (CGC -1.05%), which has offered $3.4 billion to acquire MSO Acreage Holdings. Although the deal has a 90-month time frame with which to be completed, Canopy has been clear that it has no intention of entering the U.S. pot industry without the drug being legalized at the federal level. Canopy Growth will soon have a hemp-processing/cannabidiol presence in the U.S., but will effectively be locked out of the lucrative American weed industry until the federal government changes its tune. Under Trump's watch, this seems unlikely to happen.