Democrat hopefuls entering the 2020 presidential race are getting their message out with most supporting the legalization of cannabis or policy reform. Unless Democrats get a win over Republicans or a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the next president in 2021 is not expected to legalize cannabis federally.
In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize adult use recreational cannabis. Along with eight states and District of Columbia (D.C.) permitting adult recreational use, 33 states plus D.C. have legalized cannabis for medical purposes.
A majority of Democrats are backing legalization, and the Democratic presidential nominee will probably reflect that position.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) reintroduced the Marijuana Justice Act, first introduced by Booker and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) in 2017. The bill would decriminalize cannabis federally and leverage federal funds to encourage states to legalize cannabis.
Several Democratic candidates including Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have signed on as co-sponsors.
“The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs, it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals,” Booker said in a statement. “The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of this unfair, unjust, and failed policy by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances and making it legal at the federal level.”
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) hasn’t signed on, but she states she supports legalizing cannabis.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who is expected to announce a presidential bid, said he opposes federal legalization, but backs decriminalization, legalizing medical cannabis, and each state’s right to legalize.
In 2016, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton stated her support for letting states legalize, but not federal legalization — same as President Donald J. Trump.
In 2018, Gallup’s survey found that 66 percent of the country supports legalizing cannabis and the latest figure marks the third consecutive year that support for legalization has increased and established a new record. When Gallup first polled Americans about legalizing cannabis in 1969, only 12 percent supported its legalization. According to Gallup, 75 percent of Democrats back legalization and, based on Gallup’s polls, a majority of Democrats have supported legalization since 2009, Barack Obama’s first year as president. Obama opposed legalizing cannabis, but his administration allowed states to legalize it without a federal crackdown.
Also, in 2018, The Pew Research Center’s survey reported that 62 percent of the respondents support the legalization of cannabis. Nearly 69 percent of those respondents who identify as a Democrat and 75 percent who identify as an independent (leaning toward the Democratic Party) support legalizing cannabis.
However, there is one big obstacle to legalizing cannabis federally, and that is the revenue collected by the federal government. Profitable cannabis businesses are subject to Section 280E of the US tax code. This section does not allow businesses that sell a federally illegal substance from taking corporate income tax deductions, except the cost of goods sold. This law has created very effective high tax rates.
However, if cannabis becomes legal federally, it is estimated that this move could cost the federal government $5 billion in revenue over the next decade. Cutting proceeds while there is a steep deficit could stop the movement, even with the support of Democratic presidential candidates to legalize cannabis.
Still, the 2020 primaries will probably demonstrate that most Democratic candidates are rallying around legalization.