One overlooked winner in the recent presidential primary elections is this country’s marijuana industry, which can now breathe a small sigh of relief. Marco Rubio’s recent loss in his home state of Florida caused him to suspend his campaign. He was the last aggressively anti-marijuana candidate in either party still in the race, so his departure almost assures the next president will at least not be a huge step backward for the industry.
Since marijuana is still listed as a Schedule I drug under federal law, any president has huge discretion over federal marijuana rules. Legally, the president could shut down the entire industry at any moment. He could send federal agents to seize and/or arrest every state-sanctioned cannabis business, including both recreational and medical marijuana establishments. Fortunately, in recent years President Obama has decided to take a mostly hands-off approach by leaving the issue mostly up to the individual states, but there has been no guarantee this policy would continue after he left office.
During the campaign, several presidential candidates promised to reverse Obama’s policy on marijuana, and the last one still running was Rubio. Rubio once said, “I’m not in favor of legalizing marijuana. I’m not. I never have been.” Most importantly, when asked by Chuck Todd if he would enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have moved forward with marijuana reform, Rubio simply answered, “Absolutely.”
None of the three remaining Republican candidates is great on marijuana issues. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz both get a C grade. John Kasich earned a C- grade. But all three of them have at least implied they will leave marijuana decisions to the states. When asked about the issue Trump said, “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state.” Cruz similarly claimed, “I don’t support drug legalization, but I do support the Constitution. I think individual states can choose to adopt it.” Kasich has been rather noncommittal on this issue but has indicated he opposes marijuana legalization. He probably won’t use federal enforcement to interfere because of his support for states’ rights.
Among the two remaining Democratic candidates, Bernie Sanders actively advocates for marijuana legalization. While Hillary Clinton is not as supportive of marijuana reform as her rival, she has called states that have moved forward with legalization “laboratories of democracy.” She said she wouldn’t want the federal government to interfere in those states, so we can learn from these experiments.
At worst, the next president will likely continue the status quo at the federal level, which given the delicate legal situation that exists, is good news for the industry and everyone who makes use of it.