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How Will Presidential Candidates Address Marijuana Legislation During the 2020 Election?

Following the 2018 midterm elections, Michigan became the 10th state, and the first in the Midwest, to legalize recreational marijuana. A further 22 states allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes, and marijuana legalization is now a key political topic for democratic hopefuls going into the 2020 election cycle.

Also in 2018, the U.S. Farm Bill was updated to allow for the production of industrial hemp nationwide, further moving the country closer towards widespread acceptance of both hemp and marijuana. Three states -- Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota -- still prohibit hemp within their borders, and some legislators, both democrat and republican, believe that the issues of both hemp and marijuana legalization should be left to individual states. President Trump is among those who feel that the legalization of marijuana should be done at the state level.


No matter their particular stance, potential democratic nominees are shining a spotlight on legalization efforts across the U.S. In February 2019, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker introduced a bill calling for marijuana's removal from the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances, and providing financial incentives for states that loosen their marijuana laws. The bill is co-sponsored by several other 2020 democratic contenders, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sen. Kamala Harris.

A Changing Legalization Landscape

The U.S. has come a long way since Colorado first blazed the legalization trail back in 2012. National acceptance of marijuana has risen steadily since that time, with more than 57 percent of the population in favor of national legalization as of 2016, and a number of legislators are now strong legalization advocates. Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, another 2020 presidential hopeful, has completely changed his stance on legalization after seeing its effects on his home state. While he was initially opposed to legal marijuana, he now advocates for federal decriminalization of marijuana but believes that legalization is a state issue.


"My sense of it now is that states are truly the laboratory of democracy," Hickenlooper said, as quoted in The Boston Globe. "The states should have that ability to go ahead and legalize it, and the federal government should be their partner in this and not their adversary." Hickenlooper pointed to the increase in tax revenue from marijuana sales, which helps fund social justice programs, as a primary reason for his change of heart. He also claims that marijuana use among young people hasn't risen since recreational marijuana was legalized, and that legalization has significantly destabilized the black market in Colorado.


Other myths surrounding legalization, such a the idea that it would lead to more impaired drivers on America's roadways, have been debunked in recent years. In 2009, Yale psychiatrist Dr. Robert Sewell compared the intoxication levels of stoned and drunk drivers and found that a drunk driver is 10 times more likely to cause an accident than a driver who is under the influence of marijuana. Further, studies indicate that stoned drivers are more aware of their impairment than drunk drivers and compensate by paying more attention to the road and the posted speed limit.

The Culture of Marijuana

Although marijuana is the most popular illicit drug in the U.S., its use has long been considered an activity enjoyed by the fringes of society. First attributed to jazz musicians in the 1920s and '30s, marijuana use became a hotbed issue in the 1960s, when it became the drug of choice among hippies and the anti-establishment crowd. Today, marijuana use is ingrained in the culture of the NBA, according to Phil Jackson, and is a major player in popular music, from hip-hop artists to jam bands alike.


And while marijuana users can be found among all races and ethnicities, black and Hispanic people are disproportionately affected by anti-marijuana laws. A 2011 study of prisoners in Connecticut, for example, showed that black non-violent drug offenders were incarcerated at a rate of 5-7 times higher than white offenders. Ending the racial disparity within marijuana sentencing is one of the aims of Booker's Marijuana Justice Act. In addition to decriminalizing marijuana at a national level, the bill calls for the expungement of federal marijuana offenses and would allow those currently serving time for marijuana charges to petition for shorter sentences.


While historically misunderstood, marijuana is now used to treat a variety of conditions, including glaucoma and epilepsy, and state legalization has allowed for more research to be conducted on marijuana's potential applications. Marijuana and its cousin hemp are no longer lumped into the same category, and hemp is now understood to be a cannabis strain with a THC count below 0.3 percent. THC is the compound responsible for the "high" users experience when smoking or ingesting marijuana. Hemp also has medicinal properties, and hemp-derived CBD oil has shown promise in treating anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. While CBD oil is still not legal in all 50 states, the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill could change that fact in the near future.

Marijuana and Hemp on the Ballot in 2020

Lawmakers are finally acknowledging the changing public perception regarding marijuana and the need for policy reform. Some, like Hickenlooper and Harris (who opposed a 2010 legalization referendum in California while she was attorney general) have altered their stance on the issue. But others are long-time legalization advocates. One notable example is three-term Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke, who in March 2019 announced his intention to pursue the 2020 democratic nomination.


O'Rourke referred to the war on drugs as "a complete failure" as early as 2009, when he sponsored a City Council resolution in El Paso that called for an end to the prohibition of narcotics and the legalization of marijuana, according to Vox. In the border city of El Paso, O'Rourke saw firsthand the impact of Mexican cartels, and claimed that legalization would lessen drug-related violence and death. His resolution unanimously passed the El Paso City Council but was ultimately vetoed by Mayor John Cook.

But that setback didn't stop O'Rourke from continuing his pursuit of marijuana legalization, and the issue is a cornerstone of his current campaign. He joins the ranks of Booker, Sanders, and Hickenlooper in highlighting marijuana legislation as an important political issue as we head into 2020. No matter who is ultimately nominated, Americans can expect the legalization of marijuana to remain in the campaign spotlight.

Posted by DanikaK at April 29, 2019 12:15 PM
Comment #442406

Medicinal marijuana is one thing, but research shows that
regular use can cause temporary, and possibly permanent damage to your short-term memory. The earlier the age, the more negative the effects can be on cognition and memory. Some research and tests also show that it makes people less motivated (i.e. lazy).

Posted by: d.a.n at April 29, 2019 1:07 PM
Comment #442583

An entire column full of spam, hilarious!

Posted by: ohrealy at May 2, 2019 3:23 PM
Comment #442590

Yes, unfortunately, and Ed O’hrealy is a regular contributor.

Posted by: d.a.n at May 2, 2019 4:14 PM
Comment #442593

Perhaps the problem with the lack of Democrats on the site might be because the Democrat party abandoned the Democrat voters?

That’s the way a lot of Republicans felt when George W. Bush started an unnecessary war in Iraq (based on WMD that did not exist), and then started nation-building in Iraq (something he said he would not do).

Posted by: d.a.n at May 2, 2019 4:34 PM
Comment #442671

This column resembles a Democrat vegetable garden. No one tends to and cares for the plants (except for d.a.n.) as they all expect someone else to do the real work. Yet, they will all be there at harvest time to claim a share.

Posted by: Royal Flush at May 3, 2019 5:19 PM
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