How Important Is the 2016 Election for Cannabis?


Cannabis legalization has, in an historic turn of events, become a notable topic in the 2016 race for president of the United States. The subject has come up in both the Republican and Democratic debates with even Jeb Bush admitting that he smoked (and inhaled) with only a laughing "sorry, Mom" as an apology. None of Bill Clinton's "I didn't inhale" or Barack Obama's "I inhaled, but I also made many mistakes in my youth." There is no shortage of ways to track where candidates stand on legalization, but even in light of these ratings one question remains worth asking: Will the 2016 presidential election impact cannabis at all?

Given the stances of the candidates so far we may not need to find out if cannabis could survive an antagonistic president. The overwhelming majority of candidates (including frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump) are in favor of allowing states to choose their own destinies with regard to cannabis. Further, Rand Paul has gone so far as to introduce the CARERS Act into the Senate and host fundraisers during the National Cannabis Industry Association conference in Denver, while Bernie Sanders has stated publicly that if he were given the opportunity he would vote in favor of legalizing the personal use of cannabis.

But how much will the stance on cannabis of the chief executive matter going forward?

Certainly the release of the Cole Memo in 2013 was one of the factors that spurred 2014's meteoric 74 percent growth. This was the instruction from the Attorney General's office to the Department of Justice to limit enforcement of cannabis law to specific illegal acts. However, legal cannabis has come a long way since then and it's debatable whether it still needs executive support to flourish.

Voters in the U.S. have been moving toward support of cannabis. The latest Gallup poll shows 58 percent of all voters support the legal personal use of cannabis. Further, the most recent Quinnipiac poll shows that in key swing states approval for legalization is at or above 50 percent for personal use and at or above 90 percent for medical use. Will any credible candidate really act against such numbers once in office, no matter their campaign trail rhetoric?

Moving past the presidency, though, there's historic support for cannabis in Congress as well. There are more cannabis-focused bills under consideration in Congress now than there have ever been including the Small Business Tax Equity Act, the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act, and the CARERS Act, all of which have bipartisan support in the Senate. In addition, spending bills in the House of Representatives recently passed which include the Rohrabacher amendment barring the Department of Justice from using any of its budget to prosecute state-regulated medical cannabis programs. This amendment (whose implementation was upheld in federal court) passed for the 2015 budget (219-189) and for the 2016 budget (242-186) in a Republican-controlled House.

Even at the level of state goverment the impetus is strongly in favor allowing the cannabis industry to progress as-is. The National Council of State Legislatures, comprised of representatives from every state government in the country, recently issued a resolution urging the federal government to continue to allow states to decide their own cannabis laws.

There's no way to say if this groundswell of nationwide support is enough to secure the cannabis industry going forward. Certainly a very determined chief executive could try to work against the choices of Congress, and against the urging of the consensus of all of the individual state governments, and against the will of the American electorate, but is this likely at all? Yes, the 2016 election is important. Even without it, though, the future of cannabis is bright in the United States.