There was once a time when all politicians avoided the marijuana issue like the plague. Regardless of their secret, personal beliefs on the topic, most felt that siding with hippy nation would inevitably lead to career suicide. Decades ago, this may have been true. But now that a heavy majority of the America public supports the idea of both medical and recreational marijuana, a recent report from Politico finds that more Democratic Senators entangled in tight races across the country are getting into bed with the cannabis cause in hopes of seizing votes from the progressives.
“I think what it means is how far along this issue has evolved just over the last couple of years,” Ben Pollara, a Democratic strategist connected to campaigns run by Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who also had a heavy hand in the ballot initiative that led to Florida legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes with 71 percent support. “It is no longer an issue with political downside; it’s an issue with almost entirely political upside.”
It seems that legal weed could provide Senators in red states with a way to secure more votes at the liberal end of their party. However, the cannabis opposition, namely Kevin Sabet, founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, doesn’t buy into the concept of marijuana legalization giving politicians the upper hand. “I’ve never seen marijuana swing any kind of election,” he said. “It’s such a low priority vote.”
But is it really?
Some of the latest national polls show that nearly 70 percent of the American population believes marijuana should be legalized at the federal level — similar to alcohol and tobacco — while 91 percent think it should be out on the books for medicinal use. These numbers have been consistent for the past couple of years. But, as the Politico piece points out, marijuana is not a top-ranking problem “facing the country today,” according to Gallup.
But if you ask Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, one of the founding members of Congressional Cannabis Caucus, the marijuana legalization issue “does, in fact, motivate voters.” Going on to reference elections in Pennsylvania and New York, where a candidates vocal support for cannabis seemed to clinch the win, Blumenauer says that “In a close race, [marijuana] could absolutely determine the outcome.”
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Still, many candidates remain afraid to use the word marijuana in their campaigns. Political experts say that while media professionals fully understand how to run ads for most issues, these people are quite inexperienced when it comes to handling the cannabis cause. To make things worse, most campaign managers are “risk-averse,” says Representative Blumenauer, and they believe highlighting their candidate’s support for marijuana is “just stupid.” But for those politicians with the balls to go weird, they could come out ahead.
But the victorious lawmakers will need to take action on Capitol Hill. So far, the Senate has been less than enthusiastic about considering legislation pertaining to marijuana.