A recent CNN analysis of marijuana and politics found, “There’s always been a sense that this is good with young voters, but I think it’s good with all voters… This cuts across a lot of lines.”
That analysis, which ran on-air Wednesday during “Inside Politics with John King,” came after Colorado and four other states conducted primary elections. Political experts agree that “this feels like a tipping point on marijuana legalization.”
Of particular note was the election in Oklahoma — yes, Oklahoma — where voters became the latest to approve broad access to marijuana. Voters in the very red state approved one of the most permissive medical marijuana initiatives in the country.
Keep in mind cannabis was once considered so terrible in Oklahoma that the state, along with Nebraska, sued Colorado, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn legalization. In its wisdom, the Supreme Court denied the challenge. Given the shift in Oklahoma, maybe it’s time for Nebraska to shift course and back legalization. But we digress…
Gubernatorial Candidate Wins on Cannabis Message
In Colorado, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, defeated his Democratic primary opponents after running in part on a marijuana message. At a time when leading Democrats in the race were nearly tied in the polls, Polis embraced cannabis legalization, while his opponents shied away. He ended up eclipsing his opponents with nearly 45 percent of the vote in a four-way race with high-profile figures.
The New York Times recently came to Colorado to meet with Terrapin Care Station and others in the cannabis industry. The angle of the story was how cannabis politics would play in the upcoming elections. Reporter Astead Herndon anchored the story to the Polis campaign, suggesting that Polis’ outcome would be symbolic of the power of the cannabis vote.
In the article, Christian Sederberg, a lawyer and one of the longtime figures of Colorado’s pro-legalization movement, said, “If this community stands up and supports (Polis) with the kind of support that he’s given us, then he will win. Period.
“If Jared Polis doesn’t win the primary, I’ll be pretty disappointed in the cannabis community.”
Well, Christian, you don’t have to be disappointed. The cannabis community got out the vote, and now the rest of the country is taking note as candidates prepare for midterm general elections.
Polling Points to Legalization as Winning Message
The CNN analysis looks at polling in drawing a conclusion, pointing out that in 2000, 31 percent of Americans supported legalization, according to Gallup. By 2009, support had grown to 44 percent.
In October 2017, support had grown to a stunning 61 percent, accounting for nearly two-thirds of voters. Recent polls by Pew and Quinnipiac have similarly shown support to be over 60 percent. Polls have routinely shown more than 50 percent support since 2013. Colorado voters first legalized marijuana in 2012.
And don’t even get voters started on debating medical marijuana. They support that by 94 percent, according to Quinnipiac.
King said during his show of the marijuana vote, “Some Democrats are expressing the view that maybe they should have asked for more of this. Put this on the ballot in even more states because they think it drives out turnout among their voters.”
Political strategist Guy Cecil, a prominent Democratic PAC organizer and consultant, said Democrats see cannabis as a motivating issue for voters, especially young people.
“I don’t think there’s any question that in the places we’ve seen legalization on the ballot, that it has increased interest in the election on the part of young voters in particular, that it has increased turnout in those states — that’s not the reason somebody should be for it — but I certainly think it’s a winner just in terms of the pure politics of it,” Cecil said.
And for Republicans, cannabis means opportunity. As King highlighted, “That’s how you move libertarians and the more conservative, some of them come over on the issue because we make some money out of this.”
In Utah, Republican strategists are calculating how the cannabis issue will swing the election. When voters receive ballots, they will likely decide whether to legalize medical marijuana. Strategists are recalculating turnout in November because of the marijuana ballot issue. They will need to balance out young voters turning out, which means a different calculus. Republican consultants would be wise to advise candidates not to end up on the wrong side of the issue.
There are other signs as well that marijuana has hit a tipping point politically. New York Democratic U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer recently introduced a bill to decriminalize and regulate marijuana at the federal level. Schumer previously opposed legalization.
“When Chuck Schumer does something like this you know he’s examined this and it’s a political winner,” the CNN analysis from King stated.
Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner is also an example of the evolution. Gardner is sponsoring legislation with Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren that would address banking and tax reform for the industry while also protecting legal marijuana states from federal intervention.
Gardner is also chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which means he’s the chief fundraiser for U.S. Senate Republicans. Gardner absolutely made a political calculation in defending marijuana legalization.
As the CNN report went on to point out, “There was a time when this position would be trouble.” But that time is over.
“Jeff Sessions is back in the reefer madness days,” CNN said, referring to the prohibitionist U.S. Attorney General. “The train has left the station on this, and everyone else is trying to figure out how to do it.”