There’s no denying it: pro-pot regulation views are practically requisite for Democrat aspirants to the 2020 presidential nomination. But an article published Wednesday in the Washington Examiner interviews activists who have long been struggling to push for expanded access to cannabis, and who don’t take kindly to fair weather marijuana friends.
“I think they put their fingers in the wind,” cannabis advocate Douglas Hiatt told reporter Steven Nelson for the piece. “But which of them were talking about if before it became acceptable in the last few years? Not many.”
Take your pick of the 2020 White House challengers, both announced and considering — most have now declared federal regulation is the only way to go when it comes to cannabis. But though some declared candidates like Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Representative Tulsi Gabbard, and the still-considering Senator Bernie Sanders have long proven themselves as active advocates for the end of pot prohibition, others have rather recently incorporated green into their political wardrobe.
Take for example, the as-yet unannounced candidate, former VP Joe Biden. In the past, Obama’s number two did not mince about the fact he thought marijuana should be decriminalized, but remain illegal. In 2010, he called cannabis a “gateway drug”, and worse still, pushed for drug sentencing laws that relentlessly persecuted communities of color, like 1994’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. That legislation, meant as a response to Republican critiques that Democrats were soft on crime, invented the devastating “three strikes” rule enforcing a life sentence for anyone with a trio of drug trafficking crimes or violent felonies, and increased prison funding by $9.7 billion.
California Senator Kamala Harris is another 2020 candidate whose pro-legalization views expressed over the last year have raised an eyebrow. Today she identifies the racist consequences of the War on Drugs, publicly admits to smoking “a long time ago”, and even served as Sen. Booker’s co-sponsor for his Marijuana Justice Act last year. But as California’s attorney general in 2014, Harris scoffed when reporters asked whether she would echo a challenger’s pro-cannabis regulation viewpoints.
Harris is joined in the presidential race by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a fellow former prosecutor who has yet to sign onto the regulation represented by the Marijuana Justice Act, but has been a co-sponsor of legislation that would widen scientific study of cannabis.
In regarding the candidates who have evolved their views on the issue, one may ask how important history is if they’re on board with cannabis regulation now. The Examiner posed just that question to Hiatt, who commented that federal legalization may not be the inevitable slam dunk that many perceive it to be at the moment.
“A lot of people who were around in the ‘70s told me we went through this before,” Hiatt said. “We had a big wave of decriminalization. Lots of states you wouldn’t expect were decriminalizing and things were looking good … then, boom, the whole thing got turned around in four years and Reagan restarted the War on Drugs.”
His comments suggest cannabis-first voters may be better off with someone who is a tried-and-true ally of drug regulation — rather than one who may be riding a wave of current public opinion.