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Why Democrats Are Good for Marijuana Law Reform

From left: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Richard Nixon.

When has a Republican President and White House been good for marijuana-law reform? Never.

Let's start with Richard Nixon (1968-1974), the architect of the War on Drugs. Enough said. (Following his resignation, Nixon was succeeded by Gerald Ford until the 1976 election.)

As a response to the Republicans' anti-drug stance at the time, states began decriminalizing marijuana, starting with Oregon in 1973. But the decrim trend really kicked off when Jimmy Carter (1976-1980) and the Dems took over the White House. By the end of his term, 10 states had switched their criminalized marijuana laws to decrim.

That effort ground to a halt when Ronald Reagan (1981-1988) knocked Carter out of the White House after one term. Reagan and his wife Nancy ushered in the Just Say No era, which ramped up the War on Drugs.

Two decades of Reagan and Republican control of the White House had disastrous effects in terms of increased arrests, sentencing, incarceration and propaganda (DARE, Partnership for a Drug Free America), and continued under George Bush (1989-1992).

The Dems won back the White House with Bill Clinton (1992-1999) as their candidate. Clinton may not have inhaled, but pot came back into vogue during his presidency, By the end of his first term, California became the first state to legalize the use of medical marijuana, the start of a movement that now includes 84% of the states.

Clinton's era is also known for the crime bill of 1994 that led to more incarceration and and criminal justice inequities. Clinton has since apologized for signing the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act. Nixon, Reagan and Bush never apologized for their participation in the drug war.

George W. Bush's contested victory over Al Gore in 2000 swung the White House back to the Republicans. During his two terms, Bush's Justice Department cracked down in MMJ states with ugly raids, often arresting patients in wheelchairs. However, during those years, more states followed California's lead, voting to allow medical marijuana.

From left: George Bush, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

After another eight years of Republican rule, Barack Obama and the Dems took control of the White House. Obama was an admitted marijuana smoker who joked that he "inhaled frequently - that was the point." A member of the Choom Gang of stoners growing up in Hawaii, Obama's drug policy would be influenced by his personal experience.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize so-called adult-use (i.e., recreational) marijuana. In 2013,t he Justice Department, in the Cole Memo, provided a set of eight rules the states had to follow (no diversion to other states, no underage use, etc.). If they did, then the Feds would not step in. The states were allowed to act as "laboratories of democracy." In 2014, they began selling marijuana commercially in stores. Later that year, two more states - Oregon and Alaska - as well as Washington, DC voted in favor of legalization. This November, as many six more states will have a chance to join the current Big Four. Whomever wins the presidency will have to deal with as much as 20% of the states with legal marijuana laws (not including MMJ). 

In its platform, thanks in large part to Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Party has adopted very strong marijuana policy language, calling for a "reasoned pathway to future legalization" and "to remove marijuana from its list as a Class 1 Federal Controlled Substance." Meanwhile, the Republican Party platform completely opposes decriminalization or legalization.

If history has taught us anything about marijuana-law reform, it should be clear that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be enormously preferable to Donald Trump.

Like most Republicans, Trump's for states' rights. Some dubious posts on the web would have us to believe that he favors legalization. This is wishful thinking on the part of his supporters at best and dangerous fake-news propaganda intended to sway conflicted voters at worst.

As far as third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are concerned - yes, they're both on the right side of marijuana issue. But neither has a snowball's chance in hell of winning. Johnson, in particular, is a reasonable alternatives for disaffected Republicans. But Dems on the fence should not vote against Clinton and for either Johnson or Stein as a protest in favor of more party choices

If you're a marijuana-law reformer, the Democrats are the only real option in the presidential election. I strongly urge you to vote for Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8.

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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, editor-in-chief of Freedom Leaf, co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness, and the former editor of High Times.