In the 1990s, no politician with national ambitions (and very few with state-level ambitions) dared to be a pro-cannabis candidate. Recreational cannabis was a non-issue and medical marijuana was considered too politically fraught to be worthwhile. Candidates wanted to be seen as tough on crime, not soft on what is commonly and incorrectly considered a gateway drug.
Times have changed and last night’s debate among Democratic presidential hopefuls was the latest sign. The top two candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, received questions on cannabis and both negotiated a position between neutral and positive on recreational cannabis, while being solidly in favor of criminal justice reform.
The first question went to Sanders, who was asked if, as a hypothetical Nevada resident (the debate took place in Las Vegas), how he would vote on the upcoming ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana.
“I suspect I would vote yes,” said Sanders.
He then went on to talk about the disgrace that is the U.S. criminal justice system and how too many lives are ruined over non-violent drug offenses. Clinton, who said a year ago that she would observe states like Colorado and Washington that have legalized recreational marijuana before deciding how she felt about that, stuck to that line of reasoning.
“I think that we have the opportunity through the states that are pursuing recreational marijuana to find out a lot more than we know today,” said the former Secretary of State. “I do support the use of medical marijuana and I think even there we need to do a lot more research so that we know exactly how we’re going to help people for whom medical marijuana provides relief.”
She then took a moment to agree with Sanders on the need for criminal justice reform.
This is the new center of gravity in the Democratic party. The unabashed liberal says yes to full legalization and the moderate says maybe. No one says no. While there are still anti-cannabis crusaders out there, the bulk of the opposition has been neutralized.
It was also interesting to notice some of the things that were not said. The discussion stayed on criminal justice reform, because no one seems to have found a politically comfortable position on the concept of individuals smoking pot for their own amusement. There was no talk of addiction and rehabilitation but candidates are still skittish around saying something like, “it’s no worse than alcohol.” Criminal justice reform is an urgent issue that happens to provide political cover for politicians who have probably realized by now that there is no good reason for cannabis to be illegal.
Both parties are starting to make noise about the damage done by prohibition. One day they will also be able to acknowledge how silly it is to ban a harmless plant.
Do you think the next presidential candidate will support cannabis legalization? Tell us below.