Ballot measures in five states on whether to legalize the medical or adult recreational use of cannabis (marijuana) could have a big impact on federal, state and local elections now underway by boosting turnout of young voters who tend to lean Democratic.
Voters in Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota are casting ballots on cannabis legalization measures. Arizona (with 11 Electoral College votes) and Montana (with 3 Electoral College votes) are considered swing states that could go either way in the presidential election.
In recent years the Democratic Party has been appealing to proponents of cannabis legalization, especially young voters. One in 10 eligible voters this year is a part of Generation Z (people born after 1997), and this group is anticipated to use cannabis twice as much as the average American.
According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters of this group disapprove of how President Trump is handling his job. Democrats have been working to attract these young liberal voters to the polls, but very few Republicans have called out the political tactic of using cannabis measures to boost liberal voter turnout — except for President Trump.
At an August campaign rally in Wisconsin, Trump cautioned Republicans to keep legalization initiatives off the ballot if they want to win.
“The next time you run, please don’t put marijuana on the ballot at the same time you’re running.” Trump said. “You brought out like a million people that nobody ever knew were coming out.”
The president was, of course, referring to pro-legalization voters who generally vote for Democratic candidates. Having more of those voters at the polls will definitely tip the scales in the Democrats’ favor, especially in key swing states like Arizona.
But cannabis is not only playing an important role in these states. It is also a factor in some states that have already legalized cannabis use, including Colorado.
Pro-cannabis Republican Sen. Cory Gardner is trailing in the polls to former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in Colorado. Hickenlooper has criticized Gardner for failing to advance pro-cannabis legislation in Congress. This is ironic, since Hickenlooper was formerly an opponent of cannabis legalization.
Overall, President Trump has been the only one to really call out the detrimental effect that underestimating cannabis’ role in the November elections could have on Republicans.
Going forward, Republicans would benefit if they embrace the cannabis legalization movement. If both political parties back cannabis legalization, Democrats will no longer have an advantage in winning the votes of the growing number of legalization supporters.