In key election states, Republican voters support allowing states to legalize marijuana

Originally published at Rare

It used to be conventional wisdom among Republicans–particularly those running for president–that being for the war on drugs is a must. With some states now legalizing medicinal or even recreational marijuana, overall public opinion has shifted.

But recent polling shows just how much Republicans have evolved on this issue. Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post reports:

“By significant margins, Republican voters in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire say that states should be able to carry out their own marijuana laws without federal interference. Sixty-four percent of GOP voters in Iowa say that states should be able to carry out their own laws vs. only 21 percent who say that the federal government should arrest and prosecute people who are following state marijuana laws. In New Hampshire, that margin is even slightly higher with 67 percent of GOP voters saying the feds should stay out.”

This polling however, doesn’t necessarily mean that Republican primary voters support recreational marijuana use – at least not yet.

According to a Pew Research poll conducted in March, 53 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization. However, only 39 percent of Republicans do.

And there’s a generation gap, even among conservatives: Sixty-three percent of Republican Millennials support legalization, which certainly hints at the possible future trajectory of the party.

As Zoe Russell, Assistant Executive Director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) told Rare, “The future of the marijuana issue in the GOP is the same as the future of the issue across the general public. Today, most people see prohibition brings about more negative consequences than any good.”

On the generational differences, Russell said, “The new generation of Republicans sees that the policy of marijuana prohibition was built on half-truths to begin with.”

What’s particularly fascinating about this new polling data, which was commissioned by reform group Marijuana Majority, is that it reveals a nuance in conservative thinking.

Analyzing the Pew data, it’s clear that most Republicans still don’t support full legalization of marijuana. But a strong majority of GOP primary voters in key presidential states support a states’ rights model, which is consistent with a constitutionally conservative position, but at odds with the more traditionally socially conservative approach that has dominated the GOP in the past.

This puts presidential candidates like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio, both of whom have said they would prosecute people for following state marijuana policies that contravene federal law, outside of the Republican mainstream.

But as The Washington Post noted, there are plenty of GOP candidates who are more accepting of the burgeoning states’ rights approach. “Many Republican presidential candidates have said that while they don’t condone marijuana use or legalization personally, they nonetheless support the right of states to chart their own policy on marijuana law. This is the current position of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, former tech executive Carly Fiorina, Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), former Texas governor Rick Perry and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.),” wrote the Post’s Ingraham.

Increasingly, more states are moving toward legalizing marijuana in various ways. Presently, twenty-three states plus Washington DC allow the use of legal marijuana in at least some capacity.

Whether Republicans such as Christie and Rubio will take the hint and respect the rights of voters to legalize marijuana is an open question. But it’s certainly fascinating that public opinion on marijuana has shifted so drastically as to put their positions in the minority, even within their own party.

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