Marijuana Policy and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections

With the upcoming, heightened U.S. presidential election between Democratic Party nominee Hillary R. Clinton and Republican Party nominee Donald Trump, plays an important part in the future of drug policy. The current presidential nominees, party platforms, congressional favorability of marijuana legalization, public opinion on legalization, the current state of cannabis policy, gives an insight to what we might expect for the future of cannabis policy.

2016 U.S. Presidential Nominees

Again, the Republican Party has failed to move on drug policy and more specifically cannabis policy, but this is nothing new. Trump characterized Colorado’s marijuana laws in June of 2015 by saying: “I say it is bad. Medical marijuana is another thing. But I think it is bad and I feel strongly about that. … They’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems.” Even though he said in April 1990, “We’re losing badly — the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from the drug czars” And, on the states’ rights issues and marijuana, Trump stated in October 2015, “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state.” Lastly, in discussions with a Trump staffer on October 19, 2016, she summed up Trump’s drug policy related stance as being personally against any reform since he does not use it and had people die in his family from alcoholism. ThinkProgress reporter Aaron Rupar summed up Trump’s policy stances: “In short, as is the case with many issues, Trump’s views on marijuana are hard to pin down.”

On August 12, 2016, the Drug Enforcement Agency decided not to reschedule marijuana from its current status as Schedule 1 to another one of the five schedules. In the same move, the DEA allowed for marijuana to be studied at more locations rather than the current monopoly: National Institute for Drug Abuse/University of Mississippi. According to sources, Hillary’s campaign was thrilled about the move on research but not happy with not rescheduling. The Cannabist, Hillary applauds the DEA’s approval of more science and research and reportedly stated she would reschedule marijuana. This is consistent with a Clinton staffer who said she favors

The Marijuana Policy Project rated the current presidential nominees with an A to F grading scale. Green Party nominee Jill Stein and Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson received A+ grades, Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton received a B+, and Republican Party nominee Donald Trump received a C+.

Basically, from what I can tell, Trump supports medical cannabis. That is for sure. But I do not have a clear image on legalization due to conflicting statements. His views are inconsistent. Clinton has a definite forward-looking view of cannabis policy in increment steps, while the remaining nominees, Johnson and Stein, want full legalization in one swing.

2016 Party Platforms

The 2016 Democratic Party platform:

The “war on drugs” has led to the imprisonment of millions of Americans, disproportionately people of color, without reducing drug use. Whenever possible, Democrats will prioritize prevention and treatment over incarceration when tackling addiction and substance use disorder. We will build on effective models of drug courts, veterans’ courts, and other diversionary programs that seek to give nonviolent offenders opportunities for rehabilitation as opposed to incarceration.

Because of conflicting federal and state laws concerning marijuana, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from the list of “Schedule 1″ federal controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization. We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.

The 2016 GOP Platform:

The progress made over the last three decades against drug abuse is eroding, whether for cultural reasons or for lack of national leadership. In many jurisdictions, marijuana is virtually legalized despite its illegality under federal law.

The 2016 Green Party platform put forth six points:

End the “war on drugs.” Redirect funds presently budgeted for the “war on drugs” toward expanded research, education, counseling and treatment.

Amend the Controlled Substances Act to reflect that drug use in itself is not a crime, and that persons living in the United States arrested for using drugs should not be incarcerated with those who have committed victim oriented crimes.

Legalize possession, sale, and cultivation of cannabis/marijuana.

Strike from the record prior felony convictions for marijuana possession, sale, or cultivation.

Grant amnesty and release from confinement without any further parole or probation, those who have been incarcerated for the use, sale, or cultivation of marijuana in federal and state prisons and in county/city jails, and who otherwise are without convictions for victim oriented crimes, or who do not require treatment for abuse of hard drugs. Provide the option for drug treatment to those leaving confinement.

Implement a step-by-step program to decriminalize all drugs in the United States.

The 2016 Libertarian Party platform states:

we favor the repeal of all laws creating “crimes” without victims, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes.

The current party platforms are clear on cannabis policy. One favors the status quo, while the remaining favor getting to legalization. The same trend as the presidential nominee stances.

Congressional Score Card

On a side note, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) created a politician score card. Those who favor legalization received a higher grade compared those who did not favor or were somewhere in between. In terms of NORML’s methodology, viewing six pieces of pro-cannabis legislation (three in the Senate and three in the House), they found 208 of the 233 Democratic members (89%) in Congress received a C or higher, while only 102 of 302 Republican members (34%) received a C or higher.

The trend of NORML’s data of the politicians is similar to the presidential nominee’s stance and party platform stance. There is a general trend that Libertarian, Green, and Democratic party members and nominees favor legalization and less restrictive marijuana laws compared to the GOP members and nominee who favor prohibition.

A majority of Americans favor legalization of marijuana with support around 5861 percent. Even more people favor medical marijuana and decriminalization. Looking just at medical marijuana can be split into two categories: THC/CBD or CBD-only. As of August 16, 2016, twenty-six states including the District of Colombia have medical marijuana (THC/CBD) and 16 states have CBD-only medical marijuana. Only eight states do not have some sort of medical marijuana law (Arkansas, Indiana, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, and West Virginia). Seventeen states decriminalized marijuana, and four states (Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado) and the District of Colombia legalized cannabis. The upcoming 2016 election has a chance to legalize marijuana in five states: Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada.

The NORML summary stated:

“It is clear from this analysis that support for substantive marijuana law reform is far less pronounced among elected officials than it is among the voters they represent. While greater than 6 in 10 American adults believe that “the use of marijuana should be made legal,” only 3.6 percent of Congressional members received an ‘A’ grade based upon their voting record and/or public statements. Similarly, while 67 percent of voters believe Congress should act to provide states that have legalized marijuana “a safe haven from federal marijuana laws,” fewer than 45 percent of Congressional members espouse this position.

Regionally, it is clear that the southern United States possesses the least amount of support for marijuana law reform among federally elected politicians. Of the 37 members who received an ‘F’ grade, 17 of them (about 46 percent) represent states in the Southern region of the nation.”

But one has to wonder, why there is so much support around legalization of marijuana for recreational or medical purposes among the public, but there is not much support among federally elected politicians. There could be multiple reasons why many conservatives and Republicans do not favor changing federal law such as media coverage, favoring the issue as state or local, ideology, going against constituents and their party principles, politically unfeasible (loss of support in a close race or perception as soft on drugs or criminals), and other factors.

How much does the economic elite and special interest groups favor legalization? According to Martin Gilens.

When the alignments of business-oriented and mass-based interest groups are included separately in a multivariate model, average citizens’ preferences continue to have essentially zero estimated impact upon policy change, while economic elites are still estimated to have a very large, positive, independent impact.

When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.

Perhaps the elites do not want legalization to go forward because they want workers who are not using marijuana and won’t come into work under the influence, although if a person really wanted to be under the influence during work they would do so. Personally, in the line of work I have been in – service industry at a couple of cafes and a pizzeria and manufacturing industry at an office furniture company – there is widespread cannabis use outside of work and at times before and even during work among employees . Also, the issue for them could be employee protection and insurance related as well. Regular manufacturing or construction or service businesses would matter more about these factors, but private prison industry, police unions, prison guard unions, pharmaceutical industry, and beer industry do not favor legalization for economic reasons such as losing a job or profit. Perhaps they are using their influence privately to keep prohibition happening as one billionaire is doing.


The political trends on marijuana issues are consistent with the nominee’s stance is similar to their party’s stance on marijuana. The Green Party and the Libertarian Party take the route of legalization and their MPP grade ratings are both A+. The Democratic Party has a incremental pathway toward legalization with a B+ for the nominee grade rating. The GOP does not even mention legalization, just sticking with the status-quo, and their nominee has a MPP grade rating of a C+. Also, NORML found more Democratic Party members take a less restrictive stance on cannabis than Republican members, 89% vs. 34% respectively.

The election this year will most likely yield positive Democratic Party results. According to experts, they predict Clinton will win the White House, along with a possible takeover in the Senate and gaining 15 seats in the House.

To sum it up: Any political party, besides the GOP, is a safe bet for cannabis reform of the four political parties mentioned throughout this article. Three of them are calling for legalization, while the other sticks to the status quo: prohibition.

Talking to various lawyers, citizens, nonprofit employees, political gurus, journalists, agree on the subject that marijuana will be legal in at least ten years. The political winds have been shifting toward a more liberal direction among various cultural related issues that it be marijuana to same-sex marriage. As history demonstrates, the cultural marijuana trend will move progressively forward to legalization with maybe a few setbacks along the way.


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