USA Presidential Campaign: Where do Candidates Stand on Cannabis?

5th March 2020

The USA candidacy campaign is well underway, with votes from Super Tuesday (the biggest day of voting for the Democratic Primary elections) freshly counted. US Presidential elections are a big deal, with candidates’ campaigns stretching out for almost a year prior to the final election. This year is no different – and one of the most talked-about factors? The candidates’ cannabis policy.

The failed war on drugs has affected millions of people in the USA – disproportionately populations of colour. So, it is no surprise that drug policy is a subject close to the hearts of many Americans. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the frontrunners’ positions on Cannabis (and other drugs).

Political Parties in the USA

Unlike in the UK and many other democracies, the US political system has only two political parties. Both of these parties – the Republicans and the Democrats – are represented in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Each presidential candidate is chosen to represent each political party. Candidates that are still in the running for the 2020 election are Democrats: Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Former Vice President Joe Biden, and House Representative Tulsi Gabbard. And for the Republicans: Current President Donald Trump and former Governor William F. Weld.

Candidates’ Cannabis Policies

Of the six candidates still in the running for the Presidency, four are in favour of federal cannabis legalisation, and two against.

For Federal Legalisation

Senator Bernie Sanders (Democrat):

Bernie Sanders cannabis candidate

Bernie Sanders – probably the most liberal of all the Presidential candidates – has perhaps been the most outspoken in his support of federal legalisation. In fact, he has even claimed that he would pass an Executive Order legalising cannabis “on day one”.

Sanders has also co-sponsored the Marijuana Justice Act in Congress. The Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (where it is currently classed as a Schedule 1 substance); mitigate existing racial disparities in state-level cannabis arrests, and expunge federal convictions for cannabis possession.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (Democrat):

Elizabeth Warren cannabis candidate
Senator Elizabeth Warren

Warren hasn’t been a supporter of cannabis legalisation for as long as some of the other candidates. In 2016, she didn’t support her state’s (Massachusetts) adult-use cannabis legalisation bill.

However, the Senator has since done a U-turn on the issue. having sponsored and endorsed a number of cannabis reform measures. The most promising bill is the STATES Act which aims to end the federal prohibition of cannabis. Similarly to Sanders, Warren has also supported measures to mitigate racial disparities in cannabis arrests and provide opportunities for communities most affected by prohibition (the MORE Act).

Former Governor William (Bill) F. Weld (Republican): 

William F. Weld
Former Governor William Weld

Weld is the only Republican candidate aside from the current President, Donald Trump, still in the running. The former Governor of Massachusetts has a patchy history with cannabis, being a runner of the war on drugs during Raegan’s 1980s presidency. Yet, in the early 90s, Weld supported a number of measures for the legalisation of medical cannabis.

Weld has since gone a step further, taking up a seat on the board of cannabis company, Acreage Holdings. In 2018, he announced that national legalisation was “inevitable”.

House Representative Tulsi Gabbard (Democrat): 

Tulsi Gabbard cannabis candidate
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Over the last few years, Rep. Gabbard has supported a number of cannabis reform bills, including the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. This Act would remove cannabis from the list of controlled substances and allow states to self-regulate the drug.

As a military veteran herself, Gabbard has also supported the right of veterans to access legal medicinal cannabis. She has also criticised the current system which “puts people in prison for smoking marijuana” while big pharmaceutical companies accelerate the opioid crisis and “walk away scot-free with their coffers full”.

Against Federal Legalisation

President Donald Trump (Republican): 

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump

Prior to his election to the presidency in 2016, Trump claimed that cannabis legalisation “should be a state issue”. To some, this may have been interpreted as supporting an end to federal prohibition. However, Trump’s record throughout his current presidency has implied the opposite.

At the beginning of his presidency, Trump nominated Jeff Sessions – who is infamously anti-cannabis – as Attorney General. His administration also opposed a number of bills aimed at providing veterans with access to medical cannabis.

Former Vice-President Joe Biden (Democrat):

Joe Biden
Former Vice President Joe Biden

The Vice President under Barack Obama doesn’t have a very impressive record when it comes to drug policy. And although his stance on cannabis may have softened in recent years, he is the only Democrat candidate who is explicitly opposed to cannabis legalisation.

In 2019, Biden released a Justice Reform proposal which included the decriminalisation of cannabis, as well as a $20 million prevention fund for communities and efforts to reduce racial profiling by police.


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