What 2020 Candidates' Pot Platforms Say About Views On Legal Weed

All of the candidates in the crowded 2020 field agree on at least one thing -- America's cannabis laws need to be reformed. Most voters agree.
Posted at 5:50 PM, Mar 20, 2019

The candidates in the crowded 2020 field have at least one thing in common -- they all support marijuana reform. 

Experts say that's a reflection of Americans' rapidly changing attitudes toward cannabis as more states legalize medical and recreational use. 

"It no longer scares people," said John Hudak, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and the author of Marijuana: A Short History.

"They know medical cannabis patients, they know people who are sort of coming out of the cannabis closet and saying 'I'm an occasional adult-use user.' And because of that, it has helped people change their minds about what the government had told them for years was this evil substance." 

Although younger Americans tend to have higher support for marijuana legalization, a recent survey found that support for cannabis reform has increased across all age groups since 2012. 

And the Pew Research Center found that voters who identify as independent favor legalization, regardless of which party they lean toward. 

But John Hudak, who's written a book about the history surrounding marijuana reform, says it's not an issue driving voters to the polls. 

There is certainly a niche group of voters for whom this is a very serious issue, top tier I would say. But most voters, even if they support the issue, they’re not impassioned by the issue. It is not something that will make them vote for or against a candidate. There are a lot of issues that come in line ahead of it. 

Early polling shows that health care, the economy, and inequality are top priorities for 2020 voters. 

2020 candidates are checking a box with voters by showing support for cannabis reform, but they're also using cannabis reform as a launchpad for bigger discussions around issues like racial and economic inequality.

Senator and 2020 hopeful Cory Booker has introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove cannabis from The Controlled Substances Act and expunge past convictions. Sens. Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibran, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — who are all running for president — have signed on as co-sponsors. 

And former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke has been a longtime advocate for federal legalization. 

Other more moderate candidates like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper are calling for federal reforms on cannabis, but say states should decide whether or not to legalize recreational use. 

Although it’s not the number one issue for voters, experts say if President Trump is ousted, the next president will be expected to make serious changes when it comes to cannabis. 

"There’s going to be a real expectation within the Democratic Party and particularly within the activist community that if a new president is sworn in January of 2021 and that candidate has a pro-cannabis reform record, that action will be had and that this country will start to respond to the public policy challenges surrounding cannabis that it currently faces," Hudak said.