The issue of marijuana legalization is becoming increasingly important as 2016 draws closer. While support for legalization seems to have dropped a few percentage points since 2013, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C. have all legalized in the past year, medical marijuana is legal in almost half of the country, and Florida missed passing its medical marijuana measure by a mere 2 percent this year. Even with the small drop in support, the majority of the American public supports legalizing the drug, and consequently it could be a hot-button issue in the upcoming election. Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority states, “Americans are fed up with marijuana prohibition. We now have legalization in four states and the nation’s capital, plus medical marijuana in almost half of the country. There’s much more to come in 2016.” Americans are fed up with marijuana prohibition,” Angell said. The increased prevalence of medical marijuana to alleviate arthritis symptoms or the side effects of chemotherapy is a likely contributor to the increased and continued support for legalization.
Who Supports Legalization?
A recent gallup poll revealed that 58 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. This jump in support started with the legalizations in the states of Colorado and Washington in 2013. Democratic views on marijuana tend to be positive, with 73 percent of those who identify as liberals supporting legalization, according to the Huffington Post. Gallup polls have shown that 65 percent of Democrats support legalization, which stands in stark contrast to a mere 35 percent of Republicans. In correlation with these numbers, east- and west-coast states have a far higher support rate, as they tend to be Democratic-leaning, while the south and Midwest have far lower numbers, as they tend to be Republican-run states. Independent voters have also been fueling the legalization momentum, with 62 percent of independents in favor of it.
Marijuana in 2016
Young voters are among the most likely to support legalization measures, with 67 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds saying they would like to see marijuana made legal. These up and coming voters are therefore likely to be swayed most by candidate’s stances on the issue, and more and more of them are voting. Recent exit polls in several states showed 5 to 12 percent increases in voting within this demographic. Mason Tvert, the communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, stated, “it appears having marijuana-related initiatives on the ballot produce a greater turnout among younger voters. If a candidate takes a position against marijuana policy reform, or if they choose to ignore it, they shouldn’t be surprised when those younger voters choose not to vote for them.” Likewise, Colorado Democratic consultant Jill Hanauer has said that if any candidate rejects legalization in their campaigning, “it will be to their peril, because millennials will be such huge segment of the voting public in 2016 … they’re going to lose a huge segment of the voting public for good if they try to stop what’s happening in American culture.”
However, not everyone is as sure that marijuana could sway the election as Tvery and Hanauer. Of those states that will vote on legalization in 2016, only 2 are presidential swing states. The director of a youth voting research center has stated, “the big picture is that it’s not anywhere near the top of young people’s issue priorities. Their issue priorities are always jobs and education and other issues…drug legalization hardly polls at all.”
Whether or not legalization makes an impact on the presidential election, it is likely to effect the primaries for the Democratic party. The Republican party’s overall opposition to the issue means it probably won’t have a huge impact on their primaries, but the Democrats could see a sway over their stances. Haunauer says, “if I were a Democratic candidate in a primary or general, I would embrace this issue, as this is something that’s important to respect the will of the voters.”
Barack Obama on Marijuana
The Obama administration has resolved to be flexible about the legalization movements across the country. President Obama has maintained the country’s opposition to a federal legalization, but has chosen not to challenge the state referendums, as long as the drug is strictly enforced by state governments. Obama does not personally see an issue with marijuana, however.
In early 2014, he made a statement saying he believed the drug was no more harmful than alcohol “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.” While he has stated that he does not view it as a healthy drug, he says, “as has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.” While he doesn’t support the use of the drug, he does believe that its lack of harmful effects and widespread use should make using it less of an offense, stating, “We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”
Hillary Clinton on Marijuana
Clinton, the current favorite for the Democratic candidate in 2016, was once entirely against legalization. In 2008, she spoke out against decriminalization, which is less drastic than legalization. This time around, she has yet to take a definitive stance on marijuana legalization, though she seems to be far more open to the idea than she was before. This past July, she stated, “I’m a big believer in acquiring evidence, and I think we should see what kind of results we get, both from medical marijuana and from recreational marijuana before we make any far-reaching conclusions. We need more studies. We need more evidence. And then we can proceed.”
- Shrinking Majority Of Americans Supports Marijuana Legalization – The Huffington Post
- For First Time, Americans Favor Legalizing Marijuana – Gallup
- How Marijuana May Influence The 2016 Election – The Huffington Post
- Is Hillary Clinton ready for marijuana’s 2016 push? – CNN
- Obama: Marijuana No More Dangerous Than Alcohol – The Huffington Post