With the third GOP primary debate in pot-friendly Boulder, Colo., there was some expectation the booming marijuana industry would be a hot topic of conversation. Instead the sector was addressed in a quick-hit jocular manner then dismissed and disparaged.
Ganjapreneurs looking for a Rocky Mountain high for their business efforts found instead an aloof circle of candidates generally unwilling to offer an opinion on pot.
After sparring with Carl Quintanilla, Sen. Ted Cruz tried to chill out with a light-hearted invitation.
“I’ll buy you a tequila,” he said. “Or even some famous Colorado brownies.”
Gov. John Kasich dismissed the marijuana industry as a possible revenue stream to enhance the economy and spoke of the evils of drugs.
“Drugs is one of the greatest scourge in this country,” he said.
Those in the pro-marijuana contingent waiting for their cowabunga moment were sorely disappointed.
”What a sad evening for those who are looking for change in the approach the federal government takes towards cannabis,” said Alan Brochstein, founder of marijuana stock subscription service 420 Investor. “Just one candidate, John Kasich, was asked about it, and he punted. Why is it that a card-carrying socialist, Bernie Sanders, understands the business and social issues and respects the rights of states more than almost all of these Republicans who are struggling with ways to balance the budget.”
Sanders recently advocated to deschedule cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act. That Republican candidates have taken no such steps proved a buzz-kill to many in the marijuana sector.
“The GOP debate was in our home state because we’re a swing state, and here we’re proud of our voters for repealing cannabis prohibition,” said Kyle Sherman, CEO of Colorado-based Flowhub. “The Republicans should be making this a major part of their platform to earn our votes.”
Similary miffed was Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech, a company provides technology for indoor cultivation of hydroponic marijuana.
“The candidates spent a good portion of the night focused on economic growth, while they were standing in the heart of the fastest growing sector in the country, without acknowledging it,” he said. “Cannabis legalization is an important factor to voters in Colorado and across the country, and should be a priority for Republicans and Democrats alike."
Of the Republican candidates, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has historically been part the biggest supporter of the new green economy. In seriously contemplating the issues surrounding cannabis legalization, Paul is a co-sponsor of the Compassionate Access, Research, Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act that, in part, advocates for the expansion of medical marijuana. Paul wants reschedule marijuana from I to II, which would acknowledge the therapeutic potential of cannabis but would do little to address the issue of legalization and the industry surrounding it.
“It is clear that [Paul] understands some of the challenges with state-by-state legalization being in conflict with federal law, and he has openly embraced finding solutions with respect to banking laws as well as medical research,” Brochstein said. “Paul is clearly in favor of respecting the 10th Amendment of the Constitution, while the rest of the candidates apparently don't."
But Republicans candidates may have missed an opportunity to win more voters by addressing this issue.
“A majority of Independent and Republican voters support respecting states' rights to legalize marijuana, and a majority of voters overall believe taxing and regulating cannabis is the responsible thing to do,” said Evan Nison, director of New York Cannabis Alliance. “The Republican Party could win over much needed votes by endorsing the legalization of marijuana."
That’s to say nothing of garnering general political cachet.
”This isn't a Republican or Democratic topic this is an issue of voters will and economic need,” said Peterson,. “National polls are consistently showing that over 50% of our population wants to see some measure of legalization and for the cannabis industry to be taxed and regulated. Local governments need both the tax revenue as well as the job creation that this industry brings and because we have so much support it now carries political risk for candidates who don't endorse it.”
According to the most recent Pew poll, an estimated 60% of Americans agree that the government “should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states that allow use.” State-specific surveys from early primary states, including Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, report even greater voter sentiment in favor of this position. National polls now consistently show that majorities of voters — particularly male voters, Democrat voters, and younger (Millennial) voters — embrace ending cannabis criminalization altogether, and replacing it with a system of legalization and regulation.
Despite the national support and changing political tide, marijuana is an issue that didn’t get enough air time, according to Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Foundation.
Descheduling cannabis “would not only permit states to enact their own marijuana policies unfettered, but would also permit financial institutions to engage in relationships with state-licensed cannabis businesses,” he said.
“This latter point is arguably the most pertinent issue to the existing industry and, to date, none of the Republican candidates have explicitly addressed it,” Armentano added.
There is hope for the dope industry, in that the majority of the presidential candidates from both political parties express support for the sanctity of state marijuana laws; GOP candidates Chris Christie and Marco Rubio are notable exceptions.
But the advocacy has not gone far enough.
“While it is encouraging to see some, though not all, of the Republican presidential candidates deferring to the principles of federalism in regard to the rising tide of public support in favor of marijuana law reform, far too many elected officials in both parties continue to deny the reality that public and scientific opinion are in direct conflict with federal marijuana policy,” Armentano said. “In the 2016 Presidential race, it is inherent that the candidates from both political parties recognize that advocating for marijuana law reform is a political opportunity, not a political liability.”
Of course, presidential candidates looking to play it safe on the marijuana issue may be doing themselves a disservice.
“In the past Presidential election, marijuana legalization ballot measures in Colorado and Washington proved to be more popular at the polls than either Presidential candidate,” he added. “The 2016 Presidential hopefuls ought to be more concerned with positioning themselves to be on the right side of history than on trying to appease a vocal minority that is woefully out of touch with both changing public and scientific opinion.”