The Clinton Marijuana Dilemma


With the former New York senator’s designs on taking the White House, she might need to start taking legalization seriously.

We’ve previously written about the generally positive outlook on marijuana shared by the four main presidential candidates: Clinton, Trump, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein.

Secretary Clinton is on record as saying that, if she achieves her goal of becoming the President of the United States, she will make it possible to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II. In the former category, cannabis shares the stage with drugs such as Ecstasy, LSD, and Heroin, all of which are classified as dangerous and illegal by the DEA.

She acknowledges marijuana’s place in treating certain medical conditions and is 100 percent in favor of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes across the nation. However, this level of enthusiasm stops short of full-scale recreational weed legalization.

And that stance, it has been argued, could put her run to the White House in the balance.

Courting the Millennial Vote

Clinton isn’t nearly as cool as the incumbent, President Obama. And she hasn’t captured the imagination quite like Senator Bernie “feel the Bern” Sanders. But Hillary Clinton, now more than ever, needs to find a way to reach younger voters.

And while we don’t expect her to admit to the occasional partaking of cannabis (although, with this presidential campaign, we’ll never say never) like the previously mentioned Obama and Sanders, marijuana could be just the thing to make the millennials sit up and take note.

Not that her daughter is smoothing the way for such a shift in attitude. Chelsea Clinton, speaking at a town hall at Youngstown State University, suggested that legal marijuana use had contributed to the deaths of people who were using other drugs simultaneously, due to a bad drug interaction.

Now, we’ve checked, and Chelsea definitely isn’t a doctor. And, although she later recanted the statement, that kind of mixed message coming from the Clinton camp has only brought more scrutiny to Hillary’s political stance on marijuana legalization.

A Booming Support

Tapping into the booming support of marijuana legalization – 70 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of millennials want it – could supercharge Clinton’s bid for America’s top job.

First, there’s the trust of disillusioned Sanders supporters to be won. Then there’s the situation in Colorado to be addressed. Recent polling found Clinton and Trump deadlocked in the battleground state where weed is legal.

Since legalizing marijuana in 2012, Colorado has become something of a standard-bearer for marijuana advocates across the nation. And its constituents feel closely aligned to the wider legalization cause.

This puts the opinions of both Clinton and Trump under the microscope in this most important of states, and if Clinton softens her previously held belief that full-scale legalization is a step too far, it could, in theory, swing the state in her favor.

The Clinton Marijuana Dilemma

Over the summer, the Democratic Party platform offered up a path toward federal marijuana legalization. This was a good bit more progressive than Clinton’s previously discussed stance.

And although it should be pointed out that she hasn’t explicitly said she opposes marijuana legalization, she has stated on a number of occasions that she has concerns with legalization, owing to a lack of expansive research.

If that reads as incredibly non-committal on the issue, that’s because it is. Her plan of moving cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II is heartening and certainly a step in the right direction, but it’s not the inspirational message the young voters she needs want to hear.

An acknowledgement that the actions of many are being criminalized over something that is less addictive and less harmful than tobacco (legal) and less damaging and less of a societal concern than alcohol (legal) would do wonders for her popularity with such a key demographic.

And if it’s broad appeal she’s after, the economic and social argument cannot be overlooked either. Colorado levies a 10 percent sales tax and an additional 15 percent excise tax on recreational pot, which raised $44m in 2014 and $66m in 2015. Much of this was subsequently spent on education and public health initiatives.

What’s more, the retail marijuana industry has sales projections of around $4.5 billion in 2016 and currently employs around 100,000 Americans.

A Chance to Right Some Wrongs

Beyond the money and the jobs, there exists an opportunity to right some wrongs set in motion by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

When he expanded Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs, the fallout was a disproportionate impact on largely African-American communities while his own establishment of “one strike” policies for drug offenders left many families decimated.

At the time, first lady Hillary Clinton was supportive of President Clinton’s tough-on-crime stance and welfare reform. However, time has proven that some of those policies have done more harm than good, and showing support for marijuana legalization could actually go some way towards making amends.

The racial divides and downtrodden African-American communities reeling from the failed War on Drugs were a talking point during the first presidential debate. But the discussion did not extend to the issue of marijuana legalization.

A Change in Tactics?

We wouldn’t be surprised to see the issue come back to the table as we near election day, particularly as those behind Clinton’s campaign seek to inspire and mobilize a group of voters who may see more of themselves in a third-party candidate such as Libertarian Gary Johnson.

But, as with all aspects of professional politics, there’s a balancing act to perfect. She must appeal to a wide variety of demographics, and, as the savvy political operator she appears to be, she won’t want to risk alienating other voters in the pursuit of more votes.

Even appearing to be open to changing her stance could tip the balance in her favor. She just needs to keep her daughter from sharing any more marijuana “facts.”

Do you think Hillary Clinton needs to take a bold stance on marijuana to tip the election in her favor?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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