Policy & Politics Michael Ashworth

Who Will Speak Up? Social Justice, Cannabis, And The 2020 Presidential Race

The Democratic presidential race is jam-packed with pro-legalization candidates. The field of contenders reflects the public’s evolving opinion toward recreational marijuana use. This is itself a reflection of California’s ability to influence the American mindset as a leader of the legal cannabis industry.

For many Democrats, legalization has become a litmus test for candidates who promote equal treatment to drive criminal justice reform, address over-policing, and contend with economic equality. Convincing voters they are serious about racial justice goes hand-in-hand with being outspoken about cannabis legalization and recreational use.

Racial justice is a priority for Democrats in the 2020 election race. They can’t truly provide an equitible platform unless they get on board with cannabis legalization and sponsorship to heal wounds brought on by decades of prohibition. 

Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances and expunge past convictions. “The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs, it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals,” Booker said. “The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of this unfair, unjust, and failed policy by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances and making it legal at the federal level.” Candidates in the Senate such as Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren also signed on.

People of color are often imprisoned for drug offenses at questionable rates. Beto O’Rourke, one presidential candidate that often refrains from commenting on contentious policy issues, has endorsed the federal legalization of marijuana without question. He defended his position as serious and practical considering arrests rates and the need for racial justice as African Americans are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than Caucasians, even though use is the same.

Other Democratic senators like Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sherrod Brown of Ohio oppose legalizing marijuana at the federal level and appeal to moderate voters by supporting the rights of states to decide if they want legalization. For example, in 2015, Ohio voters overwhelmingly defeated a referendum toward recreational use. Midwestern battleground states like Ohio are less progressive than the coastal states that lead the way with initiatives for cannabis reform.Many of the centrist midwestern states have been devasted by opioid abuse and overdoses. Recreational cannabis supporters argue that its use would be of benefit to addressing the crisis as the majority of marijuana users do not progress to harder drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Last year, a study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that prescriptions for opioids dropped nearly 15 percent after states legalized marijuana for medical use. Additionally, national polling shows a rapid increase in support for legal recreational marijuana use since 2000 with bipartisan support and little regional variation. Sixty-six percent of Americans now support marijuana legalization according to the latest Gallup Poll, a figure which has increased for three consecutive years. Cannabis legalization is most popular with adults under 35, with four out of five in favor. This is a motivating factor for Democrats who wish to rally millennial voters who disapprove of President Donald Trump.

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