Trump Would 'Be Wise' to Affirm Support for Medical Marijuana as 2020 Approaches, Expert Says

Photo Credit: Timothy D Easley/AP/Shutterstock
November 5, 2019

As competition heats up in the last 12 months before the 2020 presidential election, candidates are solidifying their positions on everything, including marijuana legalization. But there's one contender who hasn't mentioned cannabis of late: President Trump. Fox Rothschild's Josh Horn told Cheddar he'd do well to reaffirm his support for medical marijuana ーat least if he wants to win.

"You'll still maybe just see medical that will come back in the President's tweets or speeches, but I think he would be wise to do that because certainly if you look at all polls, the public supports at least the medical program throughout the United States," said Horn, who co-chairs the cannabis law practice at Fox Rothschild.

Cannabis has not come up as a major talking point throughout the first few rounds of Democratic debates ーalthough Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) probably would like to forget that it did indeed come up ー but most of the Democratic contenders have expressed a position on the stuff. Vice President Joe Biden errs on the conservative side, supporting only cannabis decriminalization, whereas rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Mass.) last month released a comprehensive legalization plan that seeks a social justice approach to federal cannabis legalization through executive order.

"You have the candidates now putting it in the discussion because there is a recognition that the public as a whole wants it," Horn said.

Trump, on the other hand, has been uncharacteristically quiet about cannabis. During his 2016 run, he expressed his support for medical cannabis and a states' rights approach to adult use. In August, when prompted, he left things more open-ended saying, "we’re going to see what’s going on. It’s a very big subject and right now we are allowing states to make that decision," Marijuana Moment reported.

According to recent polling by Gallup, 66 percent of Americans support cannabis legalization. But approval differs along party lines. Only about 51 percent of Republicans and 48 percent of people who identify as Conservative support legalization, according to the poll.

"There is still a very conservative segment of this country that believes [marijuana] is a gateway drug and is opposed to it," Horn explained. "But the president in the election of 2016 said he supported the states' rights to have a medical program, so I think there should be the focus for the president because he has said as much."

Until then, of course, there are several bills making their way through Congress to reform existing cannabis laws. The one with the most support, the Safe And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, seeks to ease access to banking services for legitimate cannabis businesses. It passed the House of Representatives in a historic vote in late September, but still faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate. There is reason to believe, however, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is warming up to the idea.

Although SAFE Banking does not seek to federally legalize cannabis, its passage would still be a game changer, not only for cannabis companies in need of banking services, but also because it would be the first standalone cannabis legislation to gain Congressional approval. Horn said he believes that sort of "incremental ticking away of cannabis laws" is the way things will likely get done with respect to legalization.

But the incremental approach to legalization has in recent months come under scrutiny by advocates for failing to keep issues of social equity front and center in the fight for cannabis legalization. Prior to passage of the SAFE Banking bill in the House, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Financial Services, reiterated the need to also pass reform bills that focus on equity, social justice, and repairing damages done to minorities and people of color by years of cannabis criminalization.

"This bill is but one important piece of what should be a comprehensive series of cannabis reform bills,” she said at the time.

And Presidential candidates, too, have in recent months distanced themselves from legislation that doesn't include social equity provisions. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) refused to come out in support of the bipartisan Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which seeks to officially protect states' rights to determine cannabis legality within their borders. Even Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has not mentioned the STATES Act on the campaign trail ー and she co-sponsored it ー Playboy noted.