In all likelihood, Californians will vote in November on whether they want to legalize marijuana for recreational use. They stand a good chance of saying yes.
But when it comes to the future of cannabis, nothing is guaranteed. Circumstances can go south in a matter of days or weeks, depending on the state of politics.
That’s why the 2016 presidential election is so important. The results will determine whether the nation’s growing experiment with legal cannabis survives beyond a few short years.
GOP candidates would seek to stop legalization
At least two GOP candidates have vowed to crack down on legalization in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which gives the government wide discretion to stop reform at the state level.
Ben Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, have both said they would ban legal cannabis. Neither has explicitly promised to end medical marijuana, in California or elsewhere, but the implication is that they would try.
So far, the Obama administration has declined to interfere with the states on reform. And the president has tweaked cannabis policy in the United States, making it easier for states to legalize without worry.
Any new president would have the legal authority to block legalization everywhere in the country. That’s why it’s critical that stoners vote for candidates who will stand up for reform.
“The next administration has the ability to continue the position of the Obama administration in allowing this experiment to continue successfully,” said Chris Woods, who owns a chain of recreational marijuana stores in Colorado.
Feds repeated efforts to stop medical marijuana in California
Medical weed has been legal in California since voters passed the Compassionate Use Act 20 years ago. But federal prosecutors and the DEA have tried to stop it repeatedly in recent years, shuttering dispensaries and arresting growers.
That campaign has stalled during Obama’s second term, but the threat remains. A Republican president would likely continue the California purge. Though only two GOP candidates say they’ll uphold prohibition, the rest would probably follow that path, at least to the extent needed to appease conservative voters.
The Democrats appear to be a much safer bet. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist, has promised to legalize pot by rescheduling the drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said she supports medicinal weed and will keep an open mind about full legalization.
Strong public support for legalization in 2016
Legalization in California is a good bet in November, as public support is well above 50 percent in most polls. And local advocates say they’re not terribly worried about a Rubio presidency; Carson is not considered a serious contender for the Republican nomination.
“Given the increasing bipartisan support within Congress for allowing states to make their own decisions about the issue, we are confident that the state of California will be allowed to implement the will of its people and create a tightly regulated, controlled and transparent system for the cultivation and sale of adult-use marijuana within its borders,” said Jason Kinney, spokesman for the legalization campaign.
It’s not clear how closely a GOP Congress might work with the new president to close cannabis stores. Lawmakers have tried to block reform in Washington, D.C., though Obama recently issued an executive order to allow legalization there.
But a new president could end legalization by simply reversing Justice Department policy. The department currently allows state-level legalization as long as the states enforce eight federal priorities, such as keeping marijuana away from kids.
That means the future of cannabis in California is still up in the air. It will stay there until at least November – and possibly for some time after that.