Of all the questions lingering over Colorado's burgeoning pot industry, perhaps none is weightier than who will control federal drug enforcement as of January 2017. How Americans vote on the top of the ticket in the November election could be make-or-break for the future of legal weed in the Centennial State. And of all the remaining candidates, only one appears a reliable ally to the legalization movement. (Don't bother sitting down, this will not be a shocker.) It's the democratic socialist from Vermont, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Now, the full extent to which the cannabis community will mobilize for Bernie remains to be seen. Kyle Sherman, CEO of cannabis software startup Flowhub, says the choice this election season is clear for him and his colleagues. But they're taking the wait-and-see approach.
"Bernie Sanders seems to have the support of most cannabis enthusiasts, given his pro-drug law reform platform, but it doesn't seem like there'll be all that much activity in support of him as a candidate unless he becomes the Democratic nominee," Sherman says. "Once the candidates for each party have been announced, however, my company will be launching a GOTV campaign centered around cannabis as a primary issue, and I hope others in the space take similar steps."
Other industry leaders are wasting no time organizing and empowering the cannabis community to get their interests represented at the highest level of government.
Hillary Clinton, who could end up the Democratic nominee, is tentative and vague on the topic. In November, at a town hall in South Carolina, the former secretary of state told a predominantly black audience that she supports medical marijuana. "I want to move from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 so researchers can research what's the best way to use it, dosage, how does it work with other medications," Clinton added. (In Schedule 2, marijuana would keep company with cocaine and methamphetamine.) A month earlier, she had declined to say whether she supports states' right to legalize. During her first presidential bid in 2007, Clinton said flat out that "I don't think we should decriminalize [marijuana]."
So her position is "ever-evolving" (pragmatist-speak for: "Let's see where public opinion goes.")
Sanders, to be fair, isn't as gung-ho as he could be.
"When I was mayor of the town of Burlington [Vermont]," the senator told Katie Couric last year, "which has a large university, and one or two of the kids were smoking marijuana, we suspect, we didn't arrest too many people for marijuana." But he himself doesn't partake. In the same interview he joked about being "the only person who didn't get high in the Sixties" before clarifying: "I smoked marijuana twice, and it didn't quite work for me. It's not my thing, but it is the thing of a whole lot of people."
Warren Gill, regional press secretary for the Sanders campaign, says, "It's the whole package [that's] drawing a lot of folks to our side. You know, the U.S. has more people in jail today than any other country, and we are spending about $80 billion a year to lock people up. That's just obscene, and I think our supporters realize how wrong it is that hundreds of thousands of Americans have a criminal record for smoking marijuana, but not one major Wall Street executive has been prosecuted after causing the near collapse of our entire economy."
The "single-issue voter" may indeed be the unicorn of electoral politics (nonexistent, though subject to frequent speculation).
"It's not my No. 1 issue, but the decriminalization of drugs in general is very important," says Hazen Garcia, a local businessman in his 30s who's feeling the Bern. "Addicts and users deserve treatment, not incarceration."