Will Marijuana Legalization Voters Help Democrats this November?

Ryan Grim at Huffington Post reports on the notion going round political circles that California’s Prop 19 (and, to a lesser extent, medical marijuana initiatives in Arizona and South Dakota, and dispensaries for medical marijuana in Oregon) will be for the Democrats what anti-Gay Marriage Equality amendments were for Republicans – the turn-out-the-base social wedge issue that helps their candidates on the ballot.

A survey making the rounds among strategists, which has yet to be made public, indicates that pot could be just the enticement many of these voters need: Surge voters, single women under 40 and Hispanics all told America Votes pollsters that if a legalization measure were on the Colorado ballot, they’d be more likely to come out to vote. Forty-five percent of surge voters and 47 percent of single women said they’d be more interested in voting if the question was on the ballot. Most of these were energetic, with 36 and 30 percent, respectively, saying they’d be “much more interested” in coming out to vote. Roughly half said it would make no difference. For Latinos, 32 percent said they’d be “much more interested” in voting and another 12 percent said they’d be somewhat more attracted to the idea of trudging to the polls.

Surge voters said they would support the measure by a margin of 63-35. Young single women would back it 68-31. Latinos, meanwhile, oppose it 52-46, according to the survey. “Whether it can pass or not is another question, but I think it’s clear that a marijuana legalization measure has the potential to increase turnout among voting groups that are critical to Democratic success in November,” said a Colorado Democratic operative, who, like most strategists employed by campaigns, prefers not to talk about marijuana on the record — highlighting the difficulty Democrats will have threading the political needle.

Turning out an extra few percent can be the difference between winning and losing in swing states, a reality Karl Rove exploited in 2004 by papering the nation with anti-gay marriage initiatives.

I think the Democrats are in for a surprise. See, Karl Rove and the Republicans really believed in the initiatives they were pushing. They had a frame for it – “one man one woman” – that resonated with their voters and the overall worldview espoused by most of their downticket candidates. So when that Religious Right base came out in 2004, energized to vote against dreaded homosexuals and for the continuation of all that was good, true, and Christian in America, they had George W. Bush and a whole slew of Republicans to vote for that echoed that sentiment.

What do Democrats have to offer the cannabis consumer who comes out for a 2010 election? Unlike Rove and the Republicans, the Democrats don’t really believe in these initiatives (publicly). Sen. Boxer, Sen. Feinstein (a former mayor of San Francisco, c’mon now!), and former Gov. / current AG Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown all publicly oppose Prop 19 (really, Jerry? You toked with Linda Ronstadt! Please!) Democrats can’t even go on the record to discuss this strategy. They haven’t yet framed it other than to murmur a bit about tax revenues, which is a lousy frame easily countered with “Well, if taxing crack made the cities money, should we legalize that?” Tax revenues resonate well within Assembly committee hearings, but they make for a ghoulish appeal to the average voter.

There’s also the disappointment factor. A lot of cannabis consumers were very excited about supporting Barack Obama for president. He wrote candidly of his youthful marijuana and cocaine use! No more “I didn’t inhale” bullshit; we even got an “I inhaled, frequently, that was the point.” He ran for Senate saying “The War on Drugs is an utter failure and I think we need to re-think and decriminalize our marijuana laws.”

And, honestly, he’s a black guy from Chicago and a constitutional law professor, so we figured he’s probably got a pretty good read on the realities of marijuana and how devastatingly unjust, ineffective, and harmful its prohibition is. We are the “surge voters” Grim is talking about, those of us “who were driven to the polls in 2008 through a once-in-a-generation mix of shame at the outgoing administration and hope in a new, barrier-breaking candidate.”

So we “surged”, in the real world and especially online, and got Obama elected. We even got him a massive majority in Congress. We were thrilled when he asked us online what items we’d like to see on the new administration’s agenda and multiple times we responded with “legalize marijuana”, topping almost every public survey and dominating with 16 of the top 50 questions in the largest survey. So what did we get in response? Something we in marijuana law reform simply call “The Chuckle”:

Democrats may still benefit from the cannabiphiles flooding the polls if only due to the “who else ya gonna vote for?” strategy championed by folks like Rahm Emanuel. But how long will it take some younger, Tea Party-friendly Republicans to realize they have a potential windfall of new, young, diverse voters if they steal the low-hanging fruit of marijuana legalization for their own?

Republicans already have the frames of “small government”, “personal responsibility”, and “states rights” to work within. If marijuana legalization in California passes by a wide margin and sees support from the women, minorities, and young people the GOP desperately needs to rebuild their party, how long before they begin framing the War on Drugs as the “big government”, “nanny state”, and “federal overreach” that it is? They’ve got revered conservative figures like William Buckley and Milton Friedman they can quote to bolster their position. They can easily point to the Democratic Congresses of the 1980s that created the mandatory minimums and the last three Democratic presidents who supported decriminalization and inhaled or didn’t inhale yet arrests kept increasing (at the greatest rate under Clinton, they’ll note).

The GOP isn’t quite there yet. Marijuana is still associated with hippies, counter-culture, leftism, atheism, communism, heathenism, and a few other isms the Republicans still rail against. When I was arguing for marijuana legalization back in my home state of Idaho, I used to ask the hippie-hating, pickup-driving, hardest-right Republicans I knew why, if they hated marijuana and hippies so much, did they support hippies making a living without ever paying taxes? “Why is it that you have to clock in at 8am every day,” I’d ask, “and 30% of your check is gone before you ever touch it because of taxes, while a hippie gets to sleep til Noon, grow a plant in a closet, never leave the house, and make twice as much as you do, and never pays a cent in taxes? It’s not like you see a bunch of hippies opening up brewpubs.” If the GOP can use their base’s continued engagement in the culture wars of the ’60s and ’70s by framing legalization as the only logical way to control and punish (through “sin” taxes) the users of cannabis, they could radically revitalize their party.

Just in time for 2012 when a vocally pro-marijuana legalization, anti-prohibition former governor of New Mexico named Gary Johnson will be fighting for the Republican nomination.

68 thoughts

  1. i am a proud Republican now that being said i am all for legal cannabis I’m all for taxing it I’m all for freedom to smoke it eat it what ever make hats outta it i live in so cal and let me tell ya i signed to get this on in nov i begged my wife to sign and to my surprise she did as did her big time right winger dad I’m still not for gay marriage or killing unborn baby’s but if gays want a state marriage and not a holy bible marriage that should be up to the people of that state to vote on not 1 judge and i hope that if cannabis wins and is legalized that 1 judge wont pop up and defies the will of the people on that matter also so GET OUT AND VOTE PEOPLE OF CALAFORNA,Republicans VOTE YES ON PROP 19 VOTE FOR FREEDOM and for a new way to make MONEY

  2. I’m glad you got the two videos together because it explains his nervousness over the marijuana issue, and the more I see it the more I’ve wondered about his truthfulness.
    The first video he started out strong and then he fizzled out; diminishing his final sentence. That brought out a lot of questions on my mind as if he wanted to get away from that subject.
    The second video is when he tried to get control of his nervousness by acting like a jerk and make it all sounded like a joke. He truly doesn’t what to get involved and talk about it. It is the most very important social issue that effects all of the United States citizens, and he doesn’t want to explain why he thinks it is not important anymore? Why?

  3. NORML needs to stop acting like they exist to make Democrats seem like good politicians. NORML exists for marijuana law reform. Quit with the “derp democrats give us weed and evil republicans don’t. republicans were banning the awful gay people but no not us democrats we love faggots so we’re better.” Really. It’s bullshit. Come on NORML, it makes me not want to like you guys since you’re so liberal. Try and be less biased.

    [Editor’s note: NORML has always been a non-partisan organization, favoring neither Democrats or Republicans.]

  4. As a conservative republican (no neocon) I feel it is very anti-conservative to want a government to legislate what I can and cannot put into my body. True conservatives would absolutely be against the criminalization of marijuana. The GOP does desperately need to unite, and get back to the conservative values that made them strong, conservative lawmaking, conservative spending, smaller government. When people tell me they are conservative and anti-pot I know they are either a hypocrite or ignorant of what conservatism is. I am a diabetic too, should I insist sugar be outlawed since it can kill me? The whole thing is ridiculous, a time and resource waster and there must be a stop put to it, especially when there are so many that could benefit medically. The big pharma companies are the biggest lobbying opponents I am sure.

  5. We don’t live in caves and watch shadows anymore! Prohibs can face the light, or face the darkness. It’s up to them. They can face the truth, or turn their backs on the truth, to face their fears with denial. It’s up to them. “Truth is enlightenment – fear is eternal darkness!”

    The simple fact of the matter is – BECAUSE OF THE “AMERICAN POLICY – no compelling governmental interest exists with regard to medicinal use of cannabis. Further, if prohibs think that Qualified Patients APPROVE of our children’s use or abuse of cannabis [no matter their age], their position is best defined and described as PITIFUL – to say the least. So! you tell me – what’s it all about Alfie?

  6. the prop 19 momentum has been growing in the last couple of months and shows signs of continuing on a roll. it’s gonna win is my INTUITION.

    incumbents are under a lot of pressure to do the right thing (for themselves).

    what’s with jerry brown who used to toke with the flowa powa famous? is he now a powa freak converted to fascism?

  7. Does anyone really beleave things will get better for MJ reform if tea party republicans win. Just asking.

  8. I think the Dem’s are fooling themselves if they believe the ground swell turnout for Prop 19 will benefit them. They, to include Obama have spit in our faces. This ain’t about them, it’s about starting to fix a wrong that started 70+ years ago. I do hope it’s a wake up call for all politicians that if they don’t have the gut’s the people do.

  9. #50BusGerb – Libertarians want a limited FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. We believe that the STATES can take care of the fears of “limited government” you just wrote of. And we believe that the STATES can handle this in different ways which will lead to variety and competition of ideas. There is NOTHING to be afraid of with a limited FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. None of the social programs end, they are just handled more efficiently by the state where YOU get more of a say, and the states handle them in different ways so we literally find 50 different ways to solve a problem, not just by 1 way.

    #57 – While the Tea Party has a couple good candidates (out of hundreds), they are mostly still war mongering neo-cons who think cutting spending stops at our imperialistic foreign policy. So I don’t trust them either. There are plenty of ‘classical liberal’ (limited federal government) candidates who are libertarians, republicans, and democrats.

  10. mi say: BLOOD CLATT! when are you all going to learn, to stop voting for republican & democratic… when they are the ones that have made these laws and kept these laws on the books. you all are brain wash in to there two party system. VOTE for anything and everthing that is not republican or democratic,,, that is how you will make change. get them criminals out of office… stop VOTEING FOR THEM!!! if there is no one there worthy of your vote then write in “NONE OF THE ABOVE” that all mi hav to say… one lov PEACE

  11. So, anyone here think that it would be better for the Marijuana cause if BUSH/Republicans were still in office instead of Obama? If so, GET REAL!!! Does anyone remember the all out assault from the White House during the BUSH ERA? How soon ya’ll forget. If you don’t think Democrats are better for the Marijuana cause than Republicans—-then just look at the numbers. Democrats VOTE YES to PROP 19 almost 2 to 1 compared to Republicans. Look at House Bills H.R.5143 and Senate Bill S.714
    House Bill H.R. 5143 sponsor Bill Delahunt (D-MA). Senate bill S.714 sponsor Jim Webb (D-VA). BOTH BILLS SPONSORED BY DEMOCRATS. Then check out who SUPPORTS these Bills—House Bill H.R.5143 —43 Democrat–Only 3 Republicans.——Senate Bill S.714—35 Democrats—Only 3 Republicans and 1 Independant.

  12. And by the way—-Who do you think is THE MAN behind Bills H.R.5143 and S.714——-OBAMA!!! To come straight out and jump up and down and say as THE PRESIDENT of THE UNITED STATES I suppoot Marijuana!!!, would be political suicide and flat out retarded!!! However—bringing forward National Criminal Justice Act Bills—and having those who you have put in place to study and vote for the bills—–then to present those Bills back to you with their combined voted on recommendations for your approval—-GENIUS!!!

  13. This is how you pass Bills and Laws, and never have your name directly attached. You simply sign off on a Bill that has been presented and recommended to you, that has already been voted on and passed by a group vote in the House and a group vote in the Senate. This happens at all levels of law, including City, State and Federal. You can call it Gunius, or you can call it crooked. Depends on which side of the Bill you stand.

  14. This is not to say this is how it will go or not. The Marijuana reclassification recommendations that come from within(if they come from)the National Criminal Justice Act, will have to pass both the House and the Senate before this could even come to light. Could this be what OBAMA is thinking/planning? When Prop 19 goes to the U.S. Supreme Court, and it will, how will that go? The U.S. Supreme court on May 18th 2009, upheld the right of states to implement and administer their own medical marijuana laws, affirming the long held position that federal law does not preempt state medical marijuana laws. Will this repeat itself for legal Marijuana? It looks to me as if it would of the same. One difference is that we have peace treaties with the promise of not making Marijuana legal. Will that somehow be used to make a legal difference? If not, then it will pretty much stay the same as the Laws are now, only Legal Marijuana will be legal at the State level also, as Medical Marijuana is already. OBAMA said he would not intrude on State Medical Marijuana Laws. Will he take the same outlook for State Legal Marijuana? While that remains to be seen, he will have no more control then, as he already does now, as Medical Marijuana is already illegal per Federal Law. OBAMA could already—RIGHT NOW—- be busting every operation in town if he wanted too per Federal Law. So while some of you may complain that OBAMA is not doing this or that for Marijuana—also remember what he’s not doing, that he could be doing.

  15. What I don’t understand is why questions aren’t being asked about the some 50,000 other uses for this plant. (50,000 may be an exaggeration but I keep seeing it on research). I could care less about the medicinal purpose, but I do care about alternative fuels and sustainable resources. If this was regarded as America’s first billion dollar cash crop in 1938, then why as Americans are we still in the midst of a recession/depression? Think of how many jobs can be created just by legalizing cannabis!

  16. I think that supporting 3rd party and smaller candidates like Ralph Nader and Ron Paul is absolutely pointless, because no candidate has ever won without huge financial backing from corporate interests. In fact in the last election 94% of the candidates that won were the ones who received the most funding. It’s literally impossible, people need to be realistic about this. If we can get more referendums like this one put forth in other states I think that’s a much better strategy. & maybe even voting for ‘lesser of two evil’ candidates, whoever has the least draconian cannabis laws among the two that stand a conceivable chance of winning.

  17. Trump is a Republican & in favor of legalization. Plus, he will be the only one to be able to sway the other closed minded Republicans. I have been a Democrat most my life, but I think Trump knows his numbers & he does have commonsense.

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