If you need any more proof that life is rapidly improving for American stoners, consider this: Taking a stance against legalization has quickly becoming a losing proposition for the men and women seeking the White House next year.
The field of presidential contenders, especially on the Republican side, is larger than any in living memory. Yet just two of them have taken a firm position against cannabis reform. And they’re not doing very well in the polls, to say the least.
Just four years ago, no candidate would have dreamed of backing major marijuana reform. Now at least one candidate, Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, is expected to announce his support for full legalization.
So far, no Democrat has stepped into the trap of fighting reform. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the party’s frontrunner, has offered tepid support for medical marijuana and hasn’t ruled out the possibility of full legalization. Sanders has said he supports change but has so far stopped short of endorsing laws that would allow recreational weed use.
Most Democrats have remained quiet
The handful of other Democratic candidates, most of them national unknowns, have stayed quiet on the issue. The same is not true on the Republican side of the aisle.
A recent series of polls from the Public Policy Polling found GOP voters in early primary states want candidates to let voters decide their own local pot policies. Many of these voters oppose legalization but still want the issue left to the states.
In Iowa, 64 percent of Republican voters said the feds should keep their nose out of state drug policy. Sixty-seven percent said the same in New Hampshire. These states are the earliest stops on the 2016 campaign, with the Iowa caucuses scheduled for Feb. 1 and the New Hampshire primary for Feb. 9.
The survey was commissioned by the Marijuana Majority.
“Our poll shows that across party lines, and regardless of personal support for legalization, the vast majority of voters simply want the feds to get out of the way and let states implement their own reforms without harassment,” Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell told Rolling Stone magazine. “For Democrats – who polls show overwhelmingly support legalization – this means giving states a chance to show that legalization actually works well. For Republicans – who aren’t as hot on legalization, according to polls – this means extending the cherished principle of states’ rights and a smaller federal government even in areas where they personally don’t support the policy proposal at hand.”
GOP candidates avoiding committing to a position on legalization
Such voter sentiment has apparently spurred many GOP candidates to avoid the issue or make noncommittal statements about their support for states’ rights. But some others, including long-shot candidate Rand Paul, senator from Kentucky, have offered tempered support for full-scale cannabis reform.
At least two Republicans, however, don’t seem terribly adept at reading public opinion. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Sen. Mark Rubio have both promised to end legalization nationwide should they win the presidency. Christie went so far as to suggest he would order the arrests of stoners in Colorado after taking office.
The good news is that Christie and Rubio are running toward the back of the pack. Christie most recently polled at 11th place, while Rubio came in 5th. Neither man has sustainable financial backing, and both are less than popular, even among their home voters.
In other words, don’t expect the next president to seek a crackdown on legal weed, at least not without a major shift in public opinion. But keep a close eye on the candidates and what they say about marijuana: A Chris Christie presidency is extremely unlikely, but stranger things have happened.