As we watch the U.S. presidential election unfold in 2016, we've seen marijuana legalization covered prominently in both Democrat and Republican debates. Cannabis supporters will have an opportunity to change history on election day by voting for or against candidates who support cannabis law reform as well as various laws that could legalize cannabis in a handful of states.
But we've been here before.
Almost 40 years ago Jimmy Carter was the first U.S. president to openly run on a platform of marijuana decriminalization. Many of the things he said back then are being said today by Bernie Sanders.
See if you can guess who made the following statement—Jimmy Carter or Bernie Sanders: "I support a change in law to end federal criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, leaving the states free to adopt whatever laws they wish concerning marijuana."
That's definitely something Bernie Sanders has said in one of the democratic debates, right? Actually, that was Jimmy Carter in various speeches from 1975-1977. We were this close to federal decriminalization, so what happened?
Dr. Peter Borne, Carter's Chief Drug Policy Advisor said in an interview on Frontline that he felt President Carter backed away from that stance due to low ratings and pressure from conservative parent groups out of the south. He was under fire from unions and the Congressional Black Caucus for cutting federal spending. Oil prices were quadrupling and inflation was going through the roof. Interest rates were on the rise and the economy was in trouble. The last thing he needed was to try to decriminalize cannabis.
But perhaps it was the Christmas party in 1977 where Dr. Borne was offered a line of cocaine that he decided to snort. He's the White House's anti-drug chief. So it's a bit of a conflict of interest that blows up into a full blown scandal. Ultimately, Dr. Borne resigned his position and forced President Carter to "be harder on drugs". One guy and one line of cocaine single handedly derailed any chance the country had to decriminalize cannabis.
After the missed opportunity with President Carter we had Ronald Reagan who along with his wife, Nancy told us to 'just say no'. Decriminalization wasn't likely to happen then, nor would it be under the following presidents George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton (who inhaled for godsake), George W. and now Obama.
Voters in 2016 may have a chance to put someone in the White House who could once and for all decriminalize cannabis, but we've been here before.