For decades, the Republican party has been at the forefront of anti-marijuana legislation and its desire to keep the plant a Schedule 1 drug, which would define it as not having any sort of medicinal value, at least in this country. The reality is that marijuana is slowly coming to be known as the “new gay marriage of GOP politics”, a scenario where Republicans won’t talk about the topic and turn the other cheek when their respective states decide to do something about it. That’s bound to change with the 2016 elections, with some of the country already seeing a Republican shift towards starting a conversation about legalizing marijuana.
An article in Politico points out the tiny shifts that are taking place inside the GOP when it comes to marijuana. In the past, when Republicans were asked to give their position on recreational marijuana, “several potential GOP 2016 candidates have tried to strike a tricky balance: stress the downsides of pot use and the upsides of states’ rights. Some have indicated their openness to decriminalizing pot, at least in their state, but none favors outright legalization.”
Last year, Texas Governor Rick Perry said: “I am a staunch promoter of the 10th Amendment. States should be able to set their own policies on abortion, same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization.”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s spokesman, Alex Conant, said Rubio “believes legalization of marijuana for recreational use is a bad idea, and that the states that are doing it may well come to regret it. Of course, states can make decisions about what laws they wish to apply within their own borders.”
The article points out that the “leave it to the states” stance lets potential GOP candidates find a safe middle ground between older conservatives that are anti- marijuana use and a the general-election electorate and libertarian wing that does prefer legalization. The states’ rights approach also lets GOP candidates “express some openness to medical marijuana and criminal justice reform, then argue against devoting costly resources for federal enforcement.” Surprisingly, it’s also a position many in the GOP have taken on same-sex marriage.
At least five states are set to vote to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016 — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. There are also efforts to put the issue on ballots in Florida, Missouri and Montana.
So far in the Federal Government, things remain just as shady as with the GOP. President Barack Obama’s administration has avoided the issue, except for when the Justice Department announced in 2013 that it wouldn’t block recreational and medical marijuana in states that adopted legalization measures. So while the drug is still federally banned, the administration won’t enforce that ban in states that have voted to legalize.
As for the most staunch potential GOP Presidential candidates that are also against marijuana, experts say they are Senator Rubio and New Jersey Governor. Rubio has talked about being open to medical marijuana but ruled out decriminalization. He also won’t say whether he has ever smoked pot. Christie has been against legalization in Colorado from the beginning and is against medical marijuana. Still, he has talked about the importance of relying on drug treatment more than criminal penalties.
One Republican that talks in favor of marijuana is Rand Paul. The Kentucky senator is the highest-profile Republican to support federal decriminalization and the party’s only potential presidential candidate to do it. He has “sponsored legislation aimed at preventing the federal government from cracking down on the medical marijuana industry in states where it’s legal. He’s teamed up with New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker to introduce sentencing reform legislation. He also recently co-sponsored a Senate bill to legalize industrial hemp.”
According to a recent Gallup poll, most Americans support marijuana legalization, but just 39 percent of Republicans and 31 percent of conservatives do. Another survey shows that 16 percent of Republicans in Iowa–the first presidential nominating state–favor legalization.