As the legalization of marijuana continues to spread across the nation, supporters are wondering which presidential candidate would make the better champion of their cause. It’s not as easy a call as you might think.
Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump has unequivocally embraced the legalization of recreational pot, so voters will have to use other means to divine which candidate would prove friendlier to cannabis if elected president.
Protecting a cottage industry
One way to evaluate the candidate’s impact on legalized recreational marijuana is to look at how today’s legal pot growers and retailers will fare under a Clinton or Trump administration. “The marijuana market is a new and burgeoning industry already riddled with stringent regulations, high license fees, and more competition flooding in all the time,” says Anthony Franciosi, founder of Honest Marijuana Company in Oak Creek, Colorado. Which is why he thinks that Clinton—or perhaps any Democratic leader, for that matter—could present a problem for the industry.
“A Democratic presidency could lead to a climate in which it becomes more and more difficult for a small business owner to operate, as the cost of business increases,” says Franciosi.
He explains that for craft cannabis to survive, the states and local jurisdictions need control over their own destinies, and a federal decriminalization effort by Democrats may not be left to the states.
“It would be a shame for a cottage industry run by passionate, well-to-do business owners to be turned over to pharmaceutical companies and big corporate interests,” says the entrepreneur. “Republican mindset seems to lean more toward states’ rights and less oversight by the federal government, and that would be in our best interest.”
Clinton is firm in her position
Franciosi’s position is highly dependent on the notion that Democrats are, by default, in favor of more regulation for small business (and in Clinton’s case, at least, that notion is debatable). But the party’s left wing is also demonstrably receptive to broader pot acceptance: during the primaries, Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders expressed support for removing marijuana from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency’s list of controlled substances.
However, Clinton disagreed with Sanders, proposing instead to reclassify cannabis to the same level as cocaine (moving it from Schedule I to Schedule II) while expanding medical marijuana at the state level—with federally funded research to better determine its medical value.
While such reclassification would benefit medical marijuana and reduce criminal penalties for pot possession, it would do little to advance the legalization of recreational pot, as the drug would still be listed as a controlled substance. Clinton also alienated ganja supporters with her choice of a running mate, Tim Kaine, who has opposed decriminalization and legalization of cannabis.
“As of late, Clinton has suggested the reclassification of cannabis, which would bring about more research,” says Honest Marijuana Company’s chief financial advisor, Serge Chistov. “Trump believes in the states’ rights to set their own marijuana laws and policies.”
It’s the latter point, according to Chistov, that matters more. “Donald Trump’s general policy supports the local American manufacturer, which is important to me as an advocate for quality, organic, and craft marijuana manufacturing.”
He agrees with his colleague, Franciosi, that the last thing the pot industry needs is “big pharmaceutical and multinational tobacco corporations getting their hands on the cannabis plant.” Chistov fears Clinton’s overall direction, as she supports trade deals that, in his view, disregard small and medium-sized manufacturing operations. “Trump’s policy seems more aligned with keeping the marijuana flower in the hands of the American grower/patient for continuation of the high-quality revolution we all are a part of.”
Trump’s trying to make up his mind
Meanwhile, Trump has waffled significantly on the issue of legalizing pot. Back in 1990, the Miami Herald reported that Trump supported freeing cannabis as an important step in ending the War on Drugs:
“We’re losing badly the War on Drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”
But the Donald changed his tune in an Aug. 2015 interview with Fox News when asked about Colorado’s marijuana legalization experiment:
“I think it’s bad and I feel strongly about that. They’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems.”
A few months later, in Oct. 2015, the Washington Post quoted Trump attempting to cover all the bases:
“In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state. Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should happen, right? Don’t we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.”
Then, in a Feb. 2016 discussion with Bill O’Reilly, Trump praised medical marijuana while expressing concerns about other the “real problem” of dealers loading up on Colorado’s marijuana and pushing it across the country:
“In some ways, I think it’s good and in other ways it’s a bad. I do want to see what the medical effects are. I have to see what the medical effects are and, by the way, medical marijuana, medical? I’m in favor of it a hundred percent. But what you are talking about [recreational marijuana], perhaps not. It’s causing a lot of problems out there.”
Leafly, the “world’s largest cannabis information resource,” expressed concerns online about Trump’s changing position, but expressed hope that his business acumen will reign. “Trump is, by definition, a businessman who recognizes that money talks,” the site read. “If he realizes the incredible amount of revenue produced from legalizing cannabis, as well as the reduction in costs for law enforcement and prisons nationwide, perhaps he may see the light.”