Democratic presidential contenders have come a long way from “I didn’t inhale,” reports Politico. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee boasts that his state, one of the first to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, has “the best weed in the United States of America.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) has favored legalization for more than two decades. Sen. Kamala Harris (CA) has reminisced about lighting up in college. Sen. Cory Booker (NJ) makes overhauling drug laws a linchpin of his stump speeches. Most Democrats running have embraced some form of legalization. The near-universal backing is a contrast to recent presidential campaigns, when legalization was a fringe issue that seldom surfaced. While legalizing pot is not among the top issues important to voters, it could prove crucial as Democrats winnow the field.
“In these early stages where you’re at 18 [candidates] and you’re trying to get a little bit of an edge over the rest … maybe this is the differentiator,” said strategist Joe Trippi. The change is driven by the rapid spread of legal cannabis markets. Ten states and the District of Columbia have full legalization, and another 23 states permit medicinal uses. Even deep-red states like Arkansas and Utah have enacted medical marijuana laws. Sales topped $8 billion last year and could hit $80 billion by 2030, says Cowen Equity Research. Legalization skeptics like ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown have taken a pass on the 2020 presidential contest. Another outlier, former Vice President Joe Biden, with a long track record of supporting tough drug laws, hasn’t joined the field. Last week, the House Financial Services Committee overwhelmingly passed legislation that would let banks provide services to legal marijuana businesses. Public opinion has shifted. More than 6 in 10 adults favor legalization, says the Pew Research Center, double the level at the turn of the century.