Presidential Candidates' Stances on Cannabis Legalization

Jamie Schau

As the primaries continue and candidates campaign throughout the country, more coherent and detailed policy plans are beginning to emerge from the 2020 presidential hopefuls. Included among these plans is the approach each will take toward cannabis – whether legalizing, decriminalizing, sticking to status quo or cracking down, here are the leading candidates’ stances toward cannabis:­



  • Bernie Sanders

During his first run, Sanders became the first major presidential candidate in the US to back the full legalization of cannabis. He has remained consistent since, declaring in a February 2020 campaign rally: “On my first day in office through executive order we will legalize marijuana in every state in this country…[and] we will move forward to expunge the records of those arrested for possession of marijuana.” Sanders and Warren have presented the most aggressively pro-cannabis platforms, his plans being more immediate, and hers being more specific and designed to unroll over a slightly longer term (months, not days).

  • Elizabeth Warren

Whether Congress is on board or not, in Warren’s first 100 days in office she plans to begin setting up the infrastructure to support a fully legal federal cannabis market. Under what she has called her “Just and Equitable Cannabis Industry” plan, she would direct federal agencies (DOJ, DEA, etc.) to begin the process of delisting marijuana via the federal rule-making process and reinstate the policy of deferring to state policy on marijuana enforcement in the meantime, to prevent uncertainty in the states while legalization is pending at the federal level.

  • Joe Biden

The candidate remains lukewarm on his approach to cannabis reform even after having softened his stance from decades past, during which he supported the war on drugs as well as the theory that marijuana is a “gateway drug”; Biden does not support ending broader cannabis prohibition, but would be willing to decriminalize adult-use and legalize medical marijuana. The candidate has stated that he would want to know “a lot more about the science behind it” before legalizing cannabis at the federal level.

  • Mike Bloomberg

In his Criminal Justice Reform plan, Bloomberg has proposed the decriminalization of the use and possession of marijuana nationwide, commuting all existing sentences, and expunging all records. Decriminalization, however, is a far cry from formal legalization, which the candidate has vocally opposed, stating that “we are trying to legalize another addictive narcotic, which is perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done.”



  • Donald Trump

The president’s stance on cannabis has been nebulous but generally in line with status quo, though it seems to be increasingly negative as we approach the 2020 election. When campaigning for 2016, he favored respecting individual states’ wishes but keeping federal prohibition in place. More recently, however, the Trump administration has proposed - via the 2021 budget plan - removing protections for states with medical marijuana programs, opening the door for Justice Department interference. Furthermore, while in office, Trump has used cannabis’ murky legal status as a tool to limit immigration: Under his administration’s guidance, anyone employed by the legal cannabis industry could be barred from becoming a U.S. citizen. Though the president’s cannabis policy plans moving forward have not been laid out explicitly, the outlook for a legalized market under Trump (whether in this or a future term) does not look positive.


Last Updated: March 1, 2019