I have a confession to make. I am a single-issue voter. It pains me to admit it but as I think about the upcoming Presidential election and evaluate each candidate, there is one question that I am focused on more than anything…
What is your stance on federal cannabis legalization?
For anybody reading this who knows anything about me I don’t think this will come as much of a surprise. I have immersed myself in the legal cannabis industry since it first became a reality in 2014. I built a successful cannabis-focused CRM company that eventually went public in Canada after federal legalization took hold there. I wrote a book about creating opportunity for underrepresented communities in the industry (The Highest Common Denominator: Elevating Your Base Self). I sit on the advisory board of four different cannabis focused companies and consult for two others. To say that my livelihood and that of my family will be greatly impacted by the next President’s stance on cannabis is an understatement.
And I am not alone. The legal cannabis industry supports over 243,000 full-time American Jobs as of 2020. This is over 15% more jobs than reported at the same time last year. I’m sure if you were to ask any of those folks what issues are important to them, they would be very likely to align with my thinking.
So, who to vote for? That is a question that is becoming more and more difficult as the weeks and months roll on and candidate after candidate drops out of the running. Let’s start with the incumbent as there is basically zero chance that he will not be the Republican candidate.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. For the past couple of years there have been conversations buzzing in the industry about what Donald Trump might have up his sleeve for the Presidential election. Up until recently there was a strong contingency (myself included) that believed Trump would use cannabis legalization as a literal trump card. Knowing that there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of single-issue voters the assumption was that Trump would at least tease federal legalization to win that vote. I mean, it may seem manipulative but, hey, this is Donald Trump we are talking about here. Now in recent weeks that seems to have evaporated as a possibility because while Trump claims to be a champion of states’ rights on the issue he has also been recorded as saying he believes cannabis causes users to “lose IQ points” and has also claimed that “he reserves the right to ignore a congressionally approved provision that seeks to protect state medical marijuana laws from federal interference.”
So, Trump is anything but clear on the issue and anything but a safe bet.
I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anybody that a majority of the people I know in the cannabis industry lean left. I think this speaks to many things including the origins of cannabis prohibition and a desire to see more social justice in our political system and our industry at large. The Democratic candidate options vary in their points of view greatly but as I’m writing this on Super Tuesday, and we are starting to see the front-runners in the primary let’s focus on them; Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
What is Joe Biden's stance on cannabis?
Let’s start with Joe Biden. Honestly, I have been fearing this moment for some time. Joe Biden is in striking distance of winning the nomination seemingly due in large part to the fact that he is a more centrist candidate who aligns well with the Democratic party line as a whole. While I can understand why that is a driver for many voters, I think he is one of the worst options we have for the cannabis industry. Not only was he recently quoted saying that we can’t be sure that cannabis is not a “gateway drug” but the small amount of support he has shown for the industry indicates that at most he thinks we should decriminalize and reschedule cannabis as a schedule II drug rather than schedule I. At first glance this may seem like progress but in reality, that would be the end of the US cannabis industry as we know it. To make a long story short, rescheduling to a schedule II drug would create an opportunity for big pharma to practically take over the cannabis industry. Pharma giants are the only organizations that can afford to embark on the lengthy testing and approval processes required by the FDA to get a schedule II drug out into the world. Everything that has been accomplished in US cannabis for the past six years would be undone with that one action. Also, those of us who care about righting the wrongs of prohibition past will be saddened to know that Joe Biden has been one of the strongest supporters and key architects of harsh sentencing for low level drug crimes.
It is safe to say that Biden leaves a lot to be desired.
Is Bernie Sanders the solution to cannabis legalization?
Is Bernie Sanders the savior of the cannabis industry? It is hard to say. When Bernie announced that he had a plan to federally legalize cannabis in his first hundred days I wanted to be excited, but I kept thinking about one thing, Governor Phil Murphy. You see, I had heard this before. When Phil Murphy was running for Governor of my home state of New Jersey he had made the same promise. He was planning on having NJ legalize cannabis at the state level in his first one hundred days. If you live in New Jersey, you know this never did happen and I worry that we will see a repeat on the federal level.
I want to believe that Bernie can make it happen and I believe that many other people in the industry do as well. In short, Sanders has outlined a plan to legalize that focusses on four pillars:
- De-scheduling marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act by executive action within 100 days of Sanders taking office and helping drive legislation to permanently legalize and regulate it.
- Expunging all past marijuana-related convictions, reviewing all current federal and state ones, and funding that process across the country.
- Ensuring that revenues from legal cannabis will be reinvested in Black and Brown communities and others who have been “hit hardest by the War on Drugs” (plus prohibition and forced cultivation before that, among other things), and still are.
- Making sure that legalized marijuana “does not turn into big tobacco.”
With this plan Sanders is light years ahead of any of the other candidates, as long as he can win the nomination and win over the country that elected Donald Trump in 2016.
So, where does this leave us? I suppose that is for each of us to decide individually. As primary season starts to show what our options look like it would appear that the cannabis industry will soon be feeling the Bern.
Roger Obando is the author of the new book, The Highest Common Denominator - Elevating Your Base Self, now available on Amazon.