The 2016 presidential election is roughly 18 months away and we can already see that marijuana will be one of the defining issues that will help decide who will be the next president. Even though marijuana will be a hot topic during the election not all potential candidates feel the same way about it, especially candidates from the Republican Party.
Polls favor marijuana
For the first time ever, the Gallup poll and the General Social Survey found that a majority of the public favors the legalization of marijuana. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 53% of Americans support legal marijuana. The survey also found that 39% of Republicans said that they are in favor of marijuana legalization; the highest it has ever been for the GOP.
The Pew survey found that the millennial demographic is significantly more supportive of legal marijuana across party lines. The survey found that 63% of Republican millennials feel that marijuana should be legal. Support among Democratic millennials was even higher, at 77%. The millennial age group is the only age group of Republicans who favor legal marijuana.
Potential Republican candidates have very different views on marijuana
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a former prosecutor and potential presidential candidate who has long history of being against marijuana. He even referred to the tax revenue generated from the sale of marijuana in Colorado as blood money.
In an interview Governor Christie said, “I will crack down and not permit it. Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law. And the states should not be permitted to sell it and profit from it.”
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are also against the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana. They, however, do agree that it is up to the states to decide whether marijuana should be legal.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker shares a similar view on marijuana. However, Governor Walker signed a bill last year that allows children who suffer from seizures access to cannabinoid (CBD) oil.
Last month, Republican Senator Rand Paul announced that he would be running for president in 2016. Senator Paul has sought to ease penalties for drug convictions and supports medicinal marijuana. In March, Senator Paul introduced a bipartisan bill, with Democratic Senators Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, which would effectively end the federal ban on medical marijuana and implement a series of reforms. Senator Paul has also been a strong supporter of the industrial hemp industry. In 2014, he played a key role in the Senate’s passage of legislation that would allow states to grow hemp for research.
In February, Senator Paul, who has admitted to smoking marijuana in the past, called former Governor Bush a hypocrite for being against medical marijuana because he used to smoke marijuana recreationally. Senator Cruz has also admitted to being a marijuana user.
In an interview with Yahoo, Senator Paul said, “If you got MS in Florida, Jeb Bush voted to put you in jail if you go to a local drug store and get medical marijuana. Yet he was doing it for recreational purposes and it’s a different standard for him, because he was from a very wealthy family going to a wealthy school and he got off scot-free.”
Marijuana is on the 2016 ballot in a number of swing states
Marijuana legality remains a potent issue in key electoral states, which guarantees that the candidates will be drawn into the debate. The presence of a marijuana initiative on any state ballot will also result in a significant increase in voter turnout.
Florida and a number of other critical swing states will have marijuana on the ballot in 2016. If a candidate’s campaign involves cracking down on marijuana, they are most likely not going to win the popular vote of many swing states which are crucial to winning the election.
Currently, 36 states have legalized some form of marijuana and researchers expect recreational marijuana to be on the ballot in at least 5 states in 2016. I expect marijuana to have a major impact on the outcome of the 2016 election. A number of critical swing states have legalized some form of marijuana and a candidate’s stance on marijuana could impact the outcome in these states. The marijuana issue may still be in its infancy, but the 2016 election will serve as a catalyst for it legalization.