“I think what it means is how far along this issue has evolved just over the last couple of years,” said Ben Pollara, a Democratic strategist who has worked for Nelson on his last two campaigns and served as campaign manager for the medical marijuana initiative since 2014. “It’s gotten to a point where somebody on the moderate-conservative end of the Democratic spectrum like Bill Nelson is not just coming out for medical marijuana but getting involved in a political fight and saying people ought to be able to smoke this stuff. It is no longer an issue with political downside; it’s an issue with almost entirely political upside.”
That’s a calculation that is playing out in a handful of tight Senate races this year, where an issue that has 68 percent support nationally offers a way for cautious moderates in red states—Democratic Senators Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, for example, both of whom could share the ballot with marijuana initiatives in November—to shore up support from the liberal wing of their party. In states like Nevada, where marijuana is already fully legal, it gives Democratic challengers like Jacky Rosen a ready coalition of bipartisan supporters.
Anti-marijuana activists scoff at the notion that legal cannabis mobilizes voters.