The next president may potentially rip up the federal memo that allows Oregon, Washington, and other states allow sales of recreational marijuana while the drug remains illegal under the eyes of the federal government.
The majority experts who keep a close watch on marijuana policy say they doubt a newly elected president would make an attempt to shut down marijuana sales when polls show that most Americans support legalization.
However some of the leading Republican presidential candidates – including retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio – criticize the Obama administration for allowing states to have recreational marijuana sales and suggest they will put legal marijuana back in the bottle.
As a result, this could be the most consequential presidential election on marijuana since 1980. Thompson – the drug-crazed “gonzo journalist” of the baby-boom generation – to interview one of the presidential candidates, Democrat Martin O’Malley, while tooling down a desert highway outside Las Vegas.
By far the biggest concern is whether the candidates would follow the Obama administration’s lead in allowing states to establish a legal recreational marijuana market. Ohio will place their vote on legalizing pot next month, and ballot measures are being planned in at least eight states for 2016.
“Administratively, it’s very easy for the new president” to reverse current administration policy and start over, stated John Hudak, a Brookings Institution fellow who studies marijuana policy.
Yet, he added, “to shut down that much of an operation in so many states is a fight I don’t think most rational presidents would want to pick.”
Such actions could throw thousands of people out of work and introduce a wave of chaos around a relatively low-priority issue just as a president is trying to rack up early accomplishments, Hudak stated.
Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana and one of the country’s leading critics of legalizing marijuana, agreed that a new president might not want to approach marijuana immediately.
But Sabet argued that the new president will soon have to decide whether to let states continue to go their own way or set firm federal controls.
“Does any president want to experience a major legalization-related tragedy on their watch?” All of the candidates stress their support for some form of medical marijuana – which is currently legal in 23 states – while dropping into one of two camps on recreational cannabis.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, is firmly in the group that supports states’ rights, but she’s been nuanced enough on the various issues surrounding the drug that both of the dueling marijuana groups give her B grades. One 2013 survey found that 60 percent of Americans – and 57 percent of Republicans — believe states should be free to legalize marijuana despite federal law.
On the other hand, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, has tried to draw attention to his willingness to crack down on pot in Colorado and other states. At the same time, he also suggests it’s up to state voters.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a leading congressional proponent of legalizing marijuana, stated he thinks the Republican candidates threatening to shut down pot sales are “playing to their base.”
“If they go on a jihad on that” in the general election, Blumenauer said, “it loses them more votes than it gains.”
Both Blumenauer and Tvert, of the Marijuana Policy Project, said an attempt to ban recreational marijuana sales would galvanize support in Congress for removing federal pot penalties. Advocates also want to ease federal controls to allow more marijuana research.
Sabet stated the new president should at least lay out specific standards for states to try to show that legalization has not led to such things as more drugged driving and higher youth take part in using marijuana.
Portland lawyer Amy Margolis, who was head a marijuana industry group on a lobbying mission to Congress this past week, said she’s not sure what to make of pot and the presidential race.
“I just hope we don’t have a rollback on this issue,” she stated.