Alibi V.28 No.43 • Oct 24-30, 2019 

Cannabis Manual

Presidential Politics and Pot

Smoking with Donkeys and Elephants

elephant and donkey
Pixabay License

During recent presidential debates, candidate Bernie Sanders cracked wise about marijuana while responding another candidate—Cory Booker—telling the audience that Sanders was pro-medicinal cannabis. Sanders, visibly irritated by the disclosure, got real with the audience by way of reply, noting, “I’m not on it tonight.”

Sander’s matter of fact response inevitably leads to the conclusion that presidential politics will certainly be expansive and inclusive enough to frame the ongoing debate about medical and recreational cannabis as part of a larger progressive cultural movement. Candidates like Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are perfect flag-bearers for such forward movement, but it’s also possible that intellects vastly less sympathetic—and probably elephantine as opposed to otherworldly or equine—may look on the same set of issues with covetous hearts.

Given recent Pew Research figures that indicate around 62 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization, it is an issue that has to factor in to the presidential election politics. The legalization support number is closer to 67 percent here in New Mexico. Considering those pro-cannabis legalization figures, there are bound to be Republicans among the supporters. And among those pro-legalization Republicans, there must be a few Trump supporters.

Understanding a thorough, ideological basis for legalization is now outweighed by understanding the realpolitik reason for implementing national legalization of medical and recreational cannabis. It’s simply a matter of economics now.

States that have gone ahead with plans to legalize either medical or recreational marijuana have seen an uptick in economic development; in the cases of outright legalization, a ton of clean cash is being dumped into state coffers, local businesses and the everyman’s fabled wallet.

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of major candidates’ positions, parties in transition and platforms related to and sometimes bound together with the hemp of possibility, be ye donkey or be ye elephant.

Bernie Sanders

About two months ago, the little birdy’s best friend told podcast host Joe Rogan that if elected, he would legalize marijuana by executive order. Sanders told Rogan that the federal prohibition of cannabis had to go and that he would remove the plant from the Controlled Substances Act altogether.

It must be noted that in 2015 and again in 2016, Sanders sponsored federal marijuana legalization bills which would have done just that, as well as provide for methods to expunge the criminal records of those involved in the previously prohibited production, trade, sale or distribution of cannabis.

Elizabeth Warren

Warren, like Sanders, supports legalization. But, unlike Sanders, her stance on the issue has taken some time to develop. Additionally her latest output on the subject does not include a concrete plan for changing marijuana laws at the federal level, and in fact, speaks largely in terms of decriminalization rather than legalization.

In 2011, Warren opposed legalization and only tentatively supported efforts to make medical marijuana legal in Massachusetts, but by 2018, she had become a steadfast advocate of changing federal law to better accomodate the medical cannabis industry, including the STATES Act and last year’s version of the Marijuana Justice Act, which she co-sponsored.

Joe Biden

Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s take on the whole marijuana legalization movement has been subdued, some might even say tepid. Though he has given stump speeches that speak to decriminalizing marijuana, his team has yet to put together a proposal that gives voters an idea of what that looks like.

On the plus side, Biden has famously said that “nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana.” It’s ironic when one considers that the Obama administration—where Biden played an essential policy-making role—did nothing to remove or reschedule cannabis from the list of Schedule I substances, which classes it alongside heroin and LSD.

Biden has sounded a horn calling for more research into marijuana’s medical efficacy for chronic pain management. Biden is the only Democratic candidate who opposes legalization.

Beto O’Rourke

There are a heap more candidates in the old donkey corral for this upcoming rodeo-style barrel race-slash-primary election, and we admit that we chose O’Rourke because he’s from the Southwest—from El Paso, Texas, in fact, the place this author was born—has a cool name and is kind of lo mas chingon among all the candidates.

During last Tuesday’s debate, O’Rourke had his chance to shine when a discussion of this country’s opioid crisis was joined by O’Rourke and several other young, progressive males on the ticket.

O’Rourke strongly suggested that if cannabis had been—and was—available for use by long-term, chronic pain sufferers, there would be less addiction and better pain management in the US.

This wise comment caused Andrew Yang, the youthful technocrat candidate, to respond enthusiastically, imploring him to, “Preach, Beto!” While other candidates focused on broad policy issues, O’Rourke hit it out of the park by bringing the issue back to the level of everyday voters whose continued suffering could be ameliorated with a little federal guidance and vision.

The Republicans

It’s clear that legal recreational marijuana use has gained much support since Biden was a newly elected and very skeptical veep who couldn’t quite wrap his head around cannabis use—whether medical or recreational. As mentioned before, that growth in support must include a good number of Republicans as well as some Trump supporters.

And despite that florid and sometimes unruly growth, there’s the rub. Cannabis—medical, recreational and transdimensional—is still illegal, according to the federal government.

In particular, activities that involve money and banking are complicated and convoluted by this legal disparity. As such, the marijuana industry in this nation is still mostly cash-based.

Given these complications—often created and maintained by GOP types like Jeff Sessions—it’s hard to judge how the typical voting, PTA-going Republican feels about cannabis legalization.

Trump himself has been mostly quiet on the matter, but it’s clear that his Department of Justice—especially post-Sessions—intends to keep the Cole Memorandum in place. The Cole Memorandum gives individual US attorneys wide leeway in determining whether to prosecute ongoing marijuana production activities within their respective jusisdictions.

This set of circumstances may lead to a stunning conclusion. This year’s General Social Survey shows that, as of 2018, 61 percent of Republicans favor legalization; the number is now at 76 percent for Democrats. Imagine what might happen if Trump—or another elephantine power—harnessed the power of that statistic to get votes by proposing an end to federal prohibition by executive order.

If Sanders doesn’t do it, someone else will.

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