DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: One certainty about 2015 is that it marks the start of the 2016 presidential campaign. As Democrats wait to hear about Hillary Clinton’s decision, a slew of Republicans are lining up (quietly or otherwise) to succeed Barack Obama. The next president can have a substantial impact on marijuana policy in the United States. Right now, the experiments in Colorado and Washington continue to proceed, without federal government intervention because of an informal agreement between the Justice Department and the states. Such a policy could be reversed on January 20, 2017, with a new president with a different position on marijuana.
As dozens of states have approved medical marijuana, and now four states and DC have approved recreational marijuana, cannabis policy will absolutely be part of the 2016 conversation—and that conversation will begin this year. What is so fascinating about marijuana policy is that, unlike most issues, it does not fall neatly along party lines. Some Democrats support it; some Democrats oppose it. Some Republicans support it; some Republicans oppose it. Thus far, prospective candidates have been tightlipped on the issue, with a few exceptions. Texas Governor Rick Perry has openly discussed decriminalization. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has talked about a need for drug policy reform. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has hinted that she is comfortable letting the states experiment as they have been.
Those considering a run for the White House have been able to remain mum or offer hints at their policy views on marijuana. However, as candidates declare, journalists begin looking for news hooks, voters start meeting those running, and debate moderators start peppering would-be presidents with questions, marijuana is sure to become a serious issue in a way that it has not in prior presidential campaigns. The next election will not simply be a discussion of whether a candidate has inhaled in the past, but about how a president will treat those who choose to inhale in the future.