The issue of marijuana legalization is becoming increasingly important as 2016 draws closer. In the past year, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C. have all legalized, and medical marijuana is legal in almost half of the country. However, in the past year, support for legalization has dropped by 7 percent, going from 58 percent in 2013 to 51 percent this past 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.
Who Supports Legalization?
Republican views on marijuana tend to be against legalization, with the opposite being true for Democrats. The most recent gallup polls showed only 35 percent of Republicans supporting legalization, with 65 percent of Democrats supporting it. Because of this, support for legalization is lowest in the south and Midwest, where most states are Republican, and highest on the east and west coasts, where the states tend to be Democratic.
Some theorize that the recent decline in approval ratings for legalization have to do with actually seeing it implemented. Kevin Sabet, president of anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, believes that, “the lesson here is that legalization in theory does not look like legalization in practice.” He points out that while Colorado and Washington both legalized in 2013, the decline in support for legalization declined around the same time that the laws were implemented in these states. They had begun to drop before the first marijuana stores had opened in either state. Many parents oppose legalization, as they don’t wish to have their children exposed to the drug in a way that encourages its use. For example, Sabet asked, “Do I really want to have a marijuana store around the corner from my kid’s school? Because that’s what this is about.” Likewise, Calvina Fay, executive director of Drug Free America Foundation and Save Our Society From Drugs, stated, “let’s protect our kids and communities. Do we want a massive dumbing down of our young people in our country? There are many solutions to this problem that do not include giving up and legalizing and normalizing drug use.”
Firmer Federal Control
Republicans call for stricter federal regulations over marijuana, amongst the rampant state legalizations for medical and recreational use. Republican John Fleming of Louisiana states, “as marijuana is de-stigmatized, use goes up, and it finds its way into the homes and candy and cookies and baked goods, and once it gets there, it finds its way into the brains of teens. Marijuana will also become more pervasive as states continue to embrace permissible laws on medical marijuana and the recreational use of marijuana, and kids and youth will have easier access to the dangerous, addictive drug.”
The Fight for Driving Laws
Republicans also worry about the circumstances under which individuals will use the drug if it is legal. A University of Colorado at Denver study showed an increase in marijuana-related traffic fatalities between the state’s legalizing the drug for medicinal uses in 2009 and 2013. In a hearing entitled “Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Operating While Stoned,” Republicans argued for a federal standard for drug-testing drivers. It has been concluded that there is not enough evidence regarding the drug and driving to create a national standard, but Republicans continue to fight for the studies needed to create this standard and keep our drivers safe. Fleming argues that “until we have the science, we should be careful and cautious,” and that we should postpone legalization until we know how the drug effects an individual’s ability to operate a vehicle, and have created a standard to test for it in drivers.
Marijuana in 2016
Young voters are among the most likely to support legalization measures, with 67 percent of the 18- to 29-year-old demographic saying they would like to see marijuana legalized. These up and coming voters are therefore the most likely to be swayed most by candidate’s stances on this issue, and recent exit polls showed 5 to 12 percent increases in voting within this age group. 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.”
For these reasons, some of the 2016 Republican candidates are rethinking their stance on the issue. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has voiced an opinion that the issue should be left entirely up to the states. Rick Perry is also arguing to let the states decide, pointing out that the courts in his state of Texas have begun moving towards decriminalization. Chris Christie has stated that he will end the “failed war on drugs,” which he believes is fueled by the misguided notion “that incarceration is the cure of every ill caused by drug abuse,” entirely. None of these candidates personally support marijuana use, but they understand that being flexible about the issue can help them support their Party’s other causes while letting the public decide for themselves, state by state, what they want in terms of marijuana laws.
It is also possible that marijuana won’t be as much of a swaying issue as many think. 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.”
Romney on Marijuana
In 2008, Romney vowed to fight “tooth and nail” against legalization. For 2016, he seems to be taking a similar stance, stating “I oppose marijuana being used for recreational purposes and I believe the federal law should prohibit the recreational use of marijuana.” He has not provided a definitive stance on medicinal marijuana. When asked about it in May, he responded, “we’ve got enormous issues we face, but you want to talk about medical marijuana.”
- How Marijuana May Influence The 2016 Election – The Huffington Post
- For First Time, Americans Favor Legalizing Marijuana – Gallup
- Congressional Republicans Rail Against Legalization Of Marijuana – The Huffington Post
- In the weeds: Paul, Christie, Perry open to softer pot laws ahead of 2016 – The Washington Times
- No, Mitt Romney will not legalize pot – The Washington Post