While there are many other, louder divisions between Republicans and Democrats in the United States, marijuana is a division that has extreme polarity. Overall, the Grand Old Party considers cannabis to be a dangerous and harmful drug that is a gateway to even more insidious vices – despite the lack of empirical evidence supporting this claim and in fact the overwhelming amount of evidence supporting exactly the opposite: that marijuana is not harmful, is not dangerous, and is not a gateway drug.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has had more or less an ambivalent status toward marijuana, sometimes supporting medical marijuana and sometimes wanting to put heavy restrictions and penalties on cannabis use. In recent years, though, the Democratic Party has become friendlier to marijuana use. The primary candidacy of Bernie Sanders was influential in getting legalization of medical marijuana on the official party platform this year.
Further complicating the issue is the fact that American politics is not, strictly speaking, a dichotomy. There are many small parties which are not affiliated with either the Republican or the Democratic parties. For instance, the Libertarian Party is all about letting people do what they want as long as they’re not hurting anyone, and the Green Party isn’t just green because of its environmentalism.
Let’s take a look at what each party stands for and what that means for marijuana rights.
The Republican Party and Marijuana
The Republican Party is firmly against marijuana use and legalization. Prominent Republicans claim that cannabis use results in a “dumbing down” of users and says that the drug is “dangerous” and “addictive.” Republicans call for a tightening down of federal regulations to prevent states which have voted to legalize pot from being able to follow the will of the popular vote.
Some leading Republicans do seem to be changing their minds on marijuana. Senator Rand Paul and Governor Rick Perry of Texas have both expressed opinions that the issue of marijuana legalization should be left up to the states to decide. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has further argued that incarcerating drug users, including marijuana users, is counterproductive and wastes state resources on a strategy which is ineffective at solving the problem of drug use. It should be noted that these politicians are still opposed to marijuana use and legalization, but that they think there are more important things for state and federal governments to worry about than whether people are smoking pot.
The Democratic Party and Marijuana
For the past few years, the official Democratic position has been the one outlined by Hillary Clinton in her primary campaign: that marijuana should be rescheduled from a Schedule 1 drug to a Schedule 2 drug. This would take it from the class of drugs like cocaine, heroine, and methamphetamine, which are always illegal and are extremely harmful with no known therapeutic benefits, into the same class of drugs as codeine and hydrocodone, which are known to be dangerous and highly addictive but have therapeutic benefits that can outweigh the risks. Practically, rescheduling marijuana to Schedule 2 would legalize medical marijuana in all 50 states, as you could get it with a prescription.
However, Bernie Sanders ran a strong primary campaign with a platform that included complete decriminalization of marijuana. Sanders argued on the campaign trail that marijuana should be removed from the DEA’s schedule list altogether and that the federal ban on marijuana should be lifted entirely.
The Democratic Party came to a compromise between the Clinton platform and the Sanders platform in its official party platform in June: the Democratic Party now officially supports removing marijuana from its Schedule 1 classification (though it does not state whether it should be rescheduled as Schedule 2 or simply unscheduled altogether) and that there should be a “reasoned pathway for future legalization.”
The Green Party and Marijuana
The Green Party’s stance on cannabis is simple: the Green Party supports marijuana being legalized and regulated like alcohol and cigarettes. Until that can happen, the Green Party supports the legalization of medical marijuana so that people can get marijuana with a prescription from their doctor.
The Libertarian Party and Marijuana
Many Libertarians believe that marijuana should not be regulated at all, in accordance with the Libertarian principles of only restricting or regulating things that are absolutely necessary to be regulated in order for humans to live together in a peaceful society. However, the Libertarian Party recognizes the practical need for some regulation in order to win the victory of legalization, so the official stance of the Libertarian Party is that marijuana should be regulated like wine (https://www.lp.org/blogs/nigel-lyons/regulate-marijuana-like-wine).