MPP's Executive Director Rob Kampia recently published his thoughts on how marijuana policy will factor into the 2016 presidential elections:
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) recently released its quadrennial report card detailing the most prominent presidential candidates' positions on marijuana policy.
To be sure, most voters aren't single-issue marijuana voters (on either side of the legalization issue). Most voters make their decisions after processing a soup of positions and paid ads. So MPP's intent is to inform a piece of that upcoming decision-making process, rather than claiming that marijuana legalization is the main issue for many voters.
That said, it's worth noting that hardcore supporters of legalization are now finally capable of having a measurable impact on campaigns. For example, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) raised more than $100,000 at a marijuana-specific fundraising event in Portland on June 5. This is real money for a U.S. House race.
MPP's early donations to Peter Shumlin (D-VT) almost certainly made the difference in his first primary contest for governor in 2010. And during the 2011-2012 election cycle, MPP was the largest donor to his campaign, edging out donations from AFSCME, Coca-Cola, and the Democratic Governors Association.
As for the presidential race, many members of the marijuana industry -- which is generally defined as marijuana-related businesses that are operating legally under various states' laws -- are supporting Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). At a group fundraising meeting at the National Cannabis Industry Association's annual conference in Denver on June 30, a room of canna-business leaders discussed the issue with Sen. Paul and donated more than $100,000 to his campaign. (This is real money for any presidential campaign.) MPP had previously donated $15,000 to Sen. Paul's three campaign committees.
Setting aside the ability of the cannabis industry to have some degree of impact on the current presidential race, what are the positions of some of the more interesting candidates?
Vermont Governor Pete Shumlin – who MPP helped elect – just signed a bill to make Vermont state law the eighth to explicitly authorize and regulate dispensaries where registered patients can purchase medical marijuana. Today’s signing marks the culmination of a two-year lobbying effort led by MPP and the third bill signing we’ve been a part of just this month. Many thanks to Governor Shumlin and the bill’s sponsors, Senators Jeanette White, Hinda Miller, and Dick Sears for their leadership, and the dedicated patient advocates throughout the state who made the case for adding dispensaries to Vermont’s medical marijuana law.
[caption id="attachment_4156" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption="MPP’s lobbyists and several of the state’s most committed patient advocates watch as Vermont Governor Pete Shumlin signs S. 17"][/caption]
Today’s signing bucks a trend of sorts. Governors in Rhode Island, Arizona, and Washington have all put the brakes on bills or laws to allow dispensaries, after receiving threatening letters from U.S. Attorneys in their states. Shumlin and legislative leaders received a similar letter on May 4, the day before the House of Representative was slated to vote on the dispensary bill. We were able to address concerns in the House and the administration, and the next day the House passed the measure 99-44 – with a copy of the letter on the desk of each representative.
One reason we were able to convince elected officials to move forward is that, despite the letters, there has still never been a raid on any dispensaries in states that explicity recognize and regulate dispensaries and that are in compliance with those laws. On the other hand, it’s unfortunate, but not uncommon, to see raids of dispensaries in places with more ambiguous laws that don’t specifically address dispensaries. In other words, in practice, it seems U.S. Attorneys are abiding by a narrow interpretation of the policy announced in the 2009 “Ogden memo,” in which these attorneys were instructed not to take action against anyone in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state law.
Ironically, that means the best way to avoid any federal enforcement action is to do exactly the opposite of what Washington, Arizona, and Rhode Island’s governors are doing, and instead embrace state laws that explicitly authorize and regulate dispensaries, like Gov. Shumlin and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell. Let’s hope today’s signing marks the end of this troubling trend.