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Cannabis at the National Conventions

For the last two weeks, presidential politics have been front and center. First the Republicans, then the Democrats gathered for their national nominating conventions. These gatherings can be dull and dry, but this year’s conventions have made history on several fronts.

We witnessed Hillary Clinton become the first woman to secure the presidential nomination of a major party. One week prior, Donald Trump become the first reality TV star to do the same. Perhaps most importantly for our industry, we have seen cannabis play a larger role than ever before at both conventions.

Cannabis at the Democratic Convention

While we have seen some support from the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party, Democrats are generally seen as the more canna-friendly of the two parties. In fact, thanks to Bernie Sanders and his supporters, this year’s Democratic platform includes language supporting the end of federal prohibition and the legalization of cannabis. This is truly a historic first.

The platform calls for the removal of cannabis from Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substance Act, in order to allow for more research. It also calls for “…a reasoned pathway for future legalization” at the federal level and highlights the racial disparities found in the enforcement of cannabis prohibition.

Below is the text of the Democratic platform plank related to cannabis:

Because of conflicting federal and state laws concerning marijuana, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from the list of ‘Schedule 1’ federal controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization. We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African-Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.

Cannabis may not have been the main attraction at the Democratic soiree, but it would be hard to tell from press coverage. “Democrats become first major party to back pathway to legalizing pot,” read the News and Observer of Raleigh. “Marijuana lobby finds welcome vibe at the Democratic National Convention,” wrote USA Today.

Even the New York Post got in on the act with this appropriately sensational headline: “Marijuana is the Star of the Democratic Convention.” While that might be a slight exaggeration, such a headline was entirely inconceivable just one presidential election ago.

The organizations that support ending cannabis prohibition were featured prominently at the Democratic gathering.  The American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp and the Drug Policy Alliance co-sponsored a reception on Monday, July 25 (first day of the convention) that was attended by a number of Democratic politicians, operatives, and dignitaries—including Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.

The Marijuana Policy Project hosted a fundraiser one day earlier; also attended by Congressman Blumenauer, Senator Daylin Leach (D-PA), and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN). The event’s proceeds will be distributed by MPP to cannabis allies in Congress.

We also saw some more “traditional” cannabis activism. At least two dozen protesters carried a 51-foot long inflatable joint on a 3.5 mile trek from City Hall to the convention site at the Wells Fargo Center.

“We’re here to led the DNC know that we want them to legalize cannabis federally, and we want it descheduled, not rescheduled,” one protester told CBS News.

Cannabis at the Republican Convention

Cannabis was not embraced with the same affection and zeal by Republicans as by their Democratic counterparts. In fact, the Republicans declined to endorse legalization in their platform, although they didn’t explicitly state their support for continuing prohibition either.

As been the case so often this election cycle, the views of the Republican candidate don’t necessarily jibe with the views of the party. In 2015, he told a group of reporters that “in terms of marijuana legalization, I think that should be a state issue.

“I think medical [marijuana] should happen,” he said at a rally that same week.  “I really believe we should leave it up to the states.”

Trump has yet to back down from this stance on cannabis, despite the apparent contradiction with his party’s position. He has also indicated he might make Chris Christie, who has strong anti-cannabis views, his attorney general.

In a stunning turn of events, a YouGov poll released shortly after the convention shows that Trump is not the only Republican who disagrees with the party’s cannabis platform plank. For the first time ever, this poll found more Republicans in favor of cannabis legalization than opposed, by a margin of 45-42. The times they are a changin’.

We still have quite a bit of work ahead of us in the battle to legalize cannabis. The role of cannabis at the conventions and the press coverage validates how far we have come. One of the two major parties has endorsed legalization. Both major party candidates have come out in favor of at least allowing the states to experiment with legalization. All of this was unimaginable just four years ago.

It’s clear that Hillary Clinton is the preferred candidate of these two parties as it relates to cannabis reform, especially if Chris Christie is in the discussion.

Nevertheless, we deserve to take a moment to appreciate just how far we have come before we roll up our sleeves and get back to the work of legalizing cannabis, and continuing to move our community and the industry forward.

Matt Walstatter

Matt Walstatter

Matt Walstatter and his wife, Meghan, are the owners of Pure Green, a patient owned and operated dispensary in Portland, Oregon. They have jointly owned and operated cultivation centers since 2001. Their dispensary opened in 2013. Matt can be reached at (971) 242-8561 or [email protected]

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