Chris Goldstein is a marijuana advocate living in New Jersey.
Pennsylvania's usually humdrum primary is hot this election cycle with the presidential contest running a long game. In 2016 marijuana has been a point for all tiers of candidates.
The modern evolution of the cannabis issue sees politicians playing it up for positive political capital. It makes sense. Nationally, increasing majorities of Americans favor legalization and in Pa we saw medical marijuana polling in the stratosphere of 90 percent.
Residents of the Commonwealth's largest city, Philadelphia, have been living with marijuana decriminalization for 18 months. The second largest city, Pittsburgh, has followed suit. With these two deep wells of Democratic voters it is not surprising to see blue candidates come out strongest on the issue.
John Fetterman, the current Mayor of Braddock, is running for the Dem's nomination to go against GOP incumbent Pat Toomey in the US Senate. Fetterman released a video on 4/20 that summed up his position: “Let’s make marijuana legal.”
Using full legalization as central a platform like Fetterman hasn't been seen since John Hanger ran for governor. Hanger eventually gave his support and grassroots base to Tom Wolf, who won the seat. Wolf consistently supports decrim and medical cannabis while Hanger would go on to serve as Wolf's Secretary of Policy.
Fetterman's competitors for the nomination in the Senate race are warm to the marijuana issue but not as advanced. Katy McGinty, the former Chief of Staff for Gov Wolf, supports access to medical marijuana and decriminalization of simple possession. Joe Sestak, a former US Navy Admiral, has been a longtime supporter of medical access - especially for vets - but isn't clearly defined on decriminalization or fully legal weed.
Senator Toomey himself seems to have had an odd turn around on the issue last year. After a career supporting drug war efforts and being silent on compassionate use he issued this statement in 2015: "I applaud this commonsense effort to cut red tape and help facilitate more research into medical marijuana."
The quote was in response to the Department of Health and Human Services changing a minor bit of paperwork. Toomey could be co-sponsoring a Senate bill called the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act. Introduced by Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey last year it would take some more solid steps towards a national policy on medical cannabis. But Toomey is not on the bill.
As our state legislators just passed a limited medical cannabis bill and a hemp research bill with out-of-character bi-partisanship this could have an influence on races for offices in DC.
At the local level, those who have a history of supporting the issues also have a leg up. Democrat Mark Cohen, looking to keep his Pa House seat, has been an enduring champion of cannabis reform. Everything will help as he faces a tight race.
It is also important to note that marijuana reform positions are not defined by party affiliation; in fact, neither party has taken an official stance. We saw Pennsylvania's more conservative Republicans rally passionately for medical cannabis.
This is most visible in the race for President.
Senator Ted Cruz said he would not interfere with Colorado's full legalization of marijuana. Cruz won that state's contest two weeks ago.
Businessman Donald Trump has waffled on how, as president, he would handle states that have ended cannabis prohibition. Trump at times seems hostile to the issue and other time seems to advocate a 'hands off' approach.
Asked if he had ever taken a puff of pot, Trump told a Michigan talk radio program: “I never have smoked it. I think it certainly has to be a state — I have not smoked it — it’s got to be a state decision.”
Still, both Republican front-runners have repeated their support for medical marijuana.
Democrat Hillary Clinton reiterated her position on marijuana this week after getting the questions from a member of the National NORML Board of Directors during an ABC News Town Hall program that aired April 21.
Evan Nison of New Jersey asked Clinton, "if marijuana legalization was on the ballot in your state, if you’d vote yes or no?”
Her response, in part, was, "We have enough anecdotal evidence … about what marijuana can do for medical conditions, easing pain, and we need to be doing research on it because I am 100 percent in favor of medical uses for marijuana."
Clinton also has also hinted that she would not interfere with fully legal states. Notably this is the same square occupied by her GOP competition.
The main marijuana talking point for Hillary Clinton is saying that she wants to remove marijuana from Schedule I in the federal Controlled Substances Act. She means to move it down one level to Schedule II, which is also what the CARERS Act would do.
Right now cocaine is even in Sched II of the CSA.
That solution was for the 1990's. In order to deal with the vast amount of existing state-level cannabis regulations, along with more coming along in the near future, there is a more comprehensive fix.
Bernie Sanders wants to remove marijuana from the CSA entirely.
That would allow all states the unhindered ability to regulate hemp farming, medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis.
Of all his stump topics, national marijuana legalization has proven to be one of Sanders' most powerful. It has earned him a wave of support, especially among millennial voters. The issue could prove crucial for the ballots cast between Sanders and Clinton today.
By the way, I am hoping that whomever works in the Oval Office in 2017 will remove my status as a federal criminal.
A single, .4-gram marijuana joint in a National Park during a protest has given me a permanent record. A Presidential Pardon is my only option. There are tens of thousands of Americans worse off than me, and many are in prison for this non-violent offense. This should change.
When the next Congress and the next President are elected this November, the number of states with fully legal marijuana might jump to nine.
Left out of the political activity for too long, federal elected officials will have cannabis and criminal justice reform on their agenda. Voters will need to decide who represents them best.