The president now asks his campaign for updates about marijuana measures and whether they’ll qualify for the ballot.
Last week President Donald Trump advised the Republican party not to allow cannabis legalization in the upcoming election if they want to win. Though the Trump administration has been linked to anti-marijuana sentiments, the message represented the first negative public statement Trump has made regarding cannabis.
A new report from The Daily Beast may indicate what emboldened the president to make such comments, despite promises during his 2016 campaign that he would allow states to set their own cannabis laws. According to the publication, Trump fears including marijuana reform measures in key swing states could drive voter turnout that boosts Democratic candidates.
That includes his opponent and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The president now asks his campaign for updates about marijuana measures and whether they’ll qualify for the ballot.
“The president is keenly aware of how presidential elections [nowadays]… can be won at the margins,” one Republican strategist who discussed the issue with Trump told The Daily Beast. “The pot issue is one of many that he thinks could be a danger… He once told me it would be very ‘smart’ for the Democrat[ic] Party to get as many of these on the ballot as they could.”
About 18 states were expected to change their marijuana laws at the beginning of this year, but the coronavirus pandemic halted those plans. In most states, cannabis advocates must collect enough valid signatures from voters to qualify cannabis legalization on the ballot. But the dangers of COVID-19 inhibited campaigns from meeting signature requirements as officials don’t recognize digital signatures in multiple states.
Still, it appears voters in key battleground states will have the chance to approve or deny cannabis reform this November. New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota will vote on recreational marijuana legalization. Measures that would legalize medical marijuana could also appear on ballots in Idaho, Mississippi, Nebraska, and South Dakota.
“The next time you run please don’t put marijuana on the ballot at the same time you’re running,” Trump told former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at last week’s campaign rally. “You brought out like a million people that nobody ever knew were coming out.”
Trump may be right. Data analysis of the 2018 Wisconsin gubernatorial race indicates cannabis-related questions in some districts tilted the election in the favor of Democratic challenger and current Gov. Tony Ever.
“Both parties use ballot initiatives to gin up their turnout. George Bush did it with [gay marriage] in 2004… and we did it with flag-burning amendments over the years,” Trump surrogate and former Rep. Jack Kingston told the The Daily Beast. “These kinds of measures can get hundreds [of voters] there, and that can sometimes be the difference in these races… If I was on a statewide ballot, I would probably not want a marijuana initiative on there. I suspect it brings out more Democrats than Republicans.”
A 2019 Gallup poll found two-thirds of Americans favor legalizing cannabis for recreational use. A majority of self-identified Republicans also voiced support for adult-use marijuana in the poll.