How will Republicans stand or fall on marijuana in 2016?

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Support for medical and recreational marijuana is riding high, and in Florida — the largest swing state by electoral votes in the union — the issue is on the front burner. According to one poll, 88 percent of Floridians are in favor of allowing adults to use medical pot if it's prescribed by a doctor.

Yet prominent Republicans — including some who might have their sights set on the Oval Office — have come out against a ballot initiative this November that would legalize medical marijuana.


Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has said that the measure goes against a vision of the state as a "family-friendly destination" and a "desirable place to raise a family or retire." Sen. Marco Rubio supports medical marijuana, but not the strains of the drug that are "mind-altering."

Could their stance against medical marijuana come back to haunt them if they run in 2016?


Drug policy alone isn't likely to dictate an electoral outcome. Polls show jobs, healthcare and education are top of mind for voters.

But those politicians who maintain support for the war on drugs might appear out of touch to the electorate. Seniors are the only group where a majority still want marijuana to be illegal, according to the Pew Research Center.


And while most Republicans don't favor legalization, 58 percent of independents do. Those are votes that the GOP will hope to capture in a presidential race.

Some top Republicans don't seem interested in appealing to younger voters through support for marijuana legalization. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another prospective candidate for the party's nomination, said medical cannabis programs are "a front for legalization." His state approved a limited program in 2009, but enrollment is low. Christie, a former prosecutor, has advocated the use of addiction programs for those addicted to heroin and prescription drugs, but his record as governor and state attorney suggest a more punitive attitude toward marijuana.


Credit: Gabriella Peñuela/Fusion

Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) has criticized President Obama for allowing states to move forward with marijuana legalization, but is still open to debate, according to The Wall Street Journal.


Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker echoed some drug-war rhetoric in February when he said local sheriffs believed marijuana was a "gateway drug."

Not all party leaders are marijuana hardliners. Several national Republicans have taken a more flexible approach to policy around the drug. Texas Gov. Rick Perry favors decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot. He's stopped short of backing legalization. Sen. Paul Ryan (Wisc.) has a checkered history on the issue. While serving as Mitt Romney's running mate in 2012, he said that Colorado had the right to decide its own drug policy, but added that he personally doesn't agree with it.

There's one big exception in the bunch. Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) introduced an amendment last month to protect the rights of states that legalize pot. In June, he put forward another pot-related amendment, this one to stop the Drug Enforcement Agency from busting marijuana operations in states that permit it.


Paul is also in favor of lifting the federal ban on industrial hemp, something that won him accolades from marijuana activist Joe Klare this April.

"To many political observers, it looks like Rand Paul is already eyeing a run for the GOP nomination for president in 2016," Klare wrote in The 420 Times. "Someone in the White House that supports industrial hemp—and drug-policy reform in general—would be a huge boost to the prospects of actual reform on a federal level."


Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.

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