Can Marijuana save Democrats’ bacon?
posted at 2:01 pm on July 27, 2014 by Noah Rothman
On Sunday, The New York Times announced a new campaign. In the coming days, members of the Times editorial board will publish a variety of articles investigating the state of the medical debate over the health effects of marijuana consumption, the status of the national conversation over the federal government’s ability to tax and regulate legal cannabis products, and the effects of legalization on the nation’s criminal justice system.
But that debate is a perfunctory exercise, the Times editorial announcing this crusade essentially conceded. That debate, at least in the minds of The Grey Lady’s editorial board, is over. “Repeal prohibition, again,” the editorial’s headline read. In case you thought they were being coy, the board was clearer in the body: “The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana,” it stated plainly.
The arguments in favor of decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana long ago won out over those forces which sought to maintain its status as a controlled substance on par with heroin or cocaine. States of varying political cultures from Colorado to Connecticut, from Alaska to Ohio, have instituted decriminalization regimes.
Legalizing Marijuana consumption for those with a medical condition is not even especially controversial anymore. 24 states and Washington D.C. have legalized medical cannabis. But legalization for recreational use, too, is becoming more acceptable in the eyes of Americans.
A recent Palmetto Politics poll of South Carolina voters released a shocking finding: “Six in 10 Democrats, nearly 7 in 10 Independents, and almost half of all Republicans supported the legalization of marijuana.” In South Carolina!
But the vast majority of support for legalization comes from younger, more socially liberal voters who tend to support Democratic candidates at the polls. And that’s why the cynical side of me sees the increasingly frantic push to get marijuana on ballots as servicing an ulterior motive.
Last week, Oregon officials confirmed that voters in that state will be able to cast a ballot for legalized marijuana use. If it passes, The Beaver State will become the third state in the nation, behind Washington and Colorado, to legalize it.
Oregon is also a heated battleground state in the race for control of the U.S. Senate. Conservative columnist George Will outlined why a number of factors prevalent in that Pacific Northwestern state which are benefiting pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby’s campaign against Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). She, perhaps more than any other candidate in the nation, is positioned to capitalize on the Affordable Care Act’s court challenges and problematic implementation.
But Oregon is a purple state with a decidedly blue hue, and she faces an uphill battle even a national environment which favors the GOP. If the prospect of legal marijuana manages to finally motivate a lethargic base of young liberal voters, all the Obamacare disasters in the world are unlikely to push Wehby over the finish line.
But the true opus for legalization proponents may be in 2016 when the political stakes are far higher.
“Using the successful 2009 casino initiative in Ohio as their model, a new group of medical marijuana supporters plan a major push to get their issue on the 2015 or 2016 statewide ballot,” read a recent report via the Buckeye State-based 10TV.
Nevada, too, is likely to have a legalization measure on the ballot in 2016. “If it makes the 2016 ballot it is likely to be approved,” read a post in the liberal blog FireDogLake celebrating this measure’s likely effect on the election for Democratic candidates. “A Retail Association of Nevada poll from October found 54 percent of Nevada voters favor legalizing the sale of marijuana for recreational use.”
Maine, Massachusetts, California, and Arizona are just some of the states which may have legalization measures on their ballot in 2016. There is no doubt that list will grow in the coming months.
Beyond Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), whose libertarian outlook on social policy informs his agnosticism on legalized marijuana, Republicans are rightly seen as the party opposed to legal weed. Even Chris Christie, a Republican who has long advocated for the reformation of the nation’s drug laws, recently scolded Colorado for passing a legalization measure.
The polls indicate that the GOP is behind the 8-ball when it comes to shifting public opinion trends on the issue of marijuana, and voters recognize that. In tight, contested elections like 2016, a narrow group of marginal, irregular voters decided that contest.
It is perfectly possible that some anonymous college student in his early 20s who had never voted before in his life will turn out in 2016 only to cast a ballot in favor of legalizing marijuana. In the process, his vote will be one of a handful which decides the presidential election.