Could the next U.S. President be a marijuana prohibitionist? Or will she or he embrace or at least tolerate the cannabis legalization movement?
Gone are the days when marijuana was viewed almost as a campaign killer. Or when candidates can get away with such answers as the now famous “didn’t inhale”. Marijuana is squarely at the center of fast developing issue for which each serious Presidential candidate will have to lay out their position and vision of marijuana in the U.S.
Fortunately for the candidates, and thanks to a vibrant legalization movement, majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization. Additionally, for those opposed to legalization the issue is not high on their list of considerations for a candidate. Meaning, there is majority upside with almost no downside. Sounds like a winning issue. And so, it’s not surprising that Presidential candidates actually want to talk about marijuana! How times have changed.
Newsweek (“2016 Will Be the Marijuana Election“)went through some points about why each political party and candidate wants to stake their position on cannabis legalization.
Why Republicans want to talk about marijuana
There are a variety of substantive reasons marijuana policy is an appealing topic for some—if not all—Republican hopefuls. However, there is a central political basis for it: presidential primaries.
In many ways, the GOP is in lock-step on a variety of major issues: health care, budget deficits, taxes, executive power, international trade, etc. As a result, it is hard to find daylight between the candidates. For evidence of this, re-watch some of the 2012 GOP presidential debates. At times, they looked more like a church choir eager to find harmony than a group of adversaries trying to win a race.
Marijuana is different. Views diverge among Republicans. Some candidates, like Rand Paul, have come closer to embracing legalization—at least those efforts at the state level—in an effort to connect to younger and libertarian voters. Others have been far more open-minded about medical marijuana, either endorsing such systems or appearing comfortable with a hands off approach. Still others, like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, have taken a more hardline, war-on-drugs approach to the topic.
This diversity is a magnificent thing for Republicans and Republican voters. Among (prospective) candidates who, at times, seem to be policy clones, marijuana offers voters the ability to distinguish positions. As a result, candidates must have positions on the topic.
Beyond political necessity, there are substantive policy reasons why this issue matters to the GOP. Federalism is often popular with the GOP base, and hailing “states rights” is often times a safe bet on uncomfortable issues.
Criminal justice reform has its staunch GOP supporters, particularly among the libertarian wing, and Rand Paul has both taken up that torch within the party and even outside the party to connect with voters on the issue of marijuana. On the flip side, values voters still have a loud voice within the party—particularly in the primary electorate—and some Republicans have carved out firm opposition to marijuana, suggesting that for pot policy their administrations’ position will be simple: Just say no.
Why Democrats want to talk about marijuana
For a Democrat, marijuana policy is an easier call. It offers little risk among the base that largely supports liberalized marijuana laws. It connects well with younger voters. Medical marijuana can help Democratic candidates talk about health care and family life.
It also offers Democrats a topic where they can robustly speak against an activist, intrusive federal government that needs to back off—a rare but welcome opportunity for a left-leaning candidate. In the African-American and Latino communities, Democrats can talk about criminal justice reform, discrimination, economic disparities and the job implications of marijuana arrests.
The issue has easy, natural connections to the large scale issues Democrats are likely to make the centerpiece of a presidential run, and while marijuana will not drive the debate, it will make an easy vehicle to continue the conversation on race, equality, opportunity, economics and justice.
If any candidate is going to take a prohibitionist stance on marijuana, he or she will have to make a strong case against cannabis to motivate those opposed to legalization to the polls. If a marijuana prohibitionist candidate were to win the White House, it could potentially be the end of the whole movement with what is likely to be a nasty drag out Presidential campaign.
If you support cannabis legalization in any form, exercise your right to VOTE!