Once an issue reserved for dreadlocked Green Party supporters, marijuana legalization has become a mainstream political topic. Over the past decade, public attitudes have shifted drastically in favor of ending cannabis prohibition, and since 2012, four states (and Washington D.C.) have legalized it by voter initiative. Even big-name political figures have started throwing their weight behind the idea. But there have been holdouts — namely, conservative and Republican voters, and their representatives.
But according to a new poll, that’s changing as well. For the first time, a poll shows that a majority of Republicans have actually changed their minds on marijuana legalization, and now support it.
The poll, from YouGov, says that the “latest research shows that most Americans still support legalization of marijuana, and that support for legalization has increased slightly, from 52% in December 2015 to 55% today. Most of this change is a result of changing attitudes among Republicans. In fact, for the first time, Republicans narrowly tend to support legalization, 45% to 42%.”
Again, this is a relatively big deal because it’s the first time we’ve seen Republicans side with the pro-legalization crowd. And when you add in that polls showed that Republicans were against the idea by a very wide margin just this past December — 50% opposed to 36% in favor — it’s clear a huge turnaround has occurred.
Republicans are shifting their views
Some Republican powers still hold anti-drug and anti-legalization views. For example, New Jersey governor Chris Christie claimed that if he were elected president, he’d sic the DEA and other federal agencies after cannabis businesses operating legally under state laws. The Republican Party platform also doesn’t support legalization — an area where it differs with Democrats, who have voted to pursue a “pathway” to legalization.
As for the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump? He has actually broken ranks with most of the party by saying he supports medical cannabis laws, and that he’d allow the states to dictate their own policies. The Marijuana Policy Project, however, still grades him the lowest pro-marijuana candidate from the major parties.
There have been, however, some Republicans who have cautiously tiptoed into the pro-legalization camp. Kentucky Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul — both big names with plenty of influence within the party — have backed laws that would legalize hemp farming in an effort to generate economic activity in their state. But that’s a rare example, as by and large the Republican Party has fought against legalization, even following successful implementation in Washington and Colorado.
What YouGov’s poll shows us is that the party’s base is starting to shift, meaning that the party’s leaders will likely need to shift as well.
What’s next for marijuana legalization?
While Republicans have been slower to come around than Democrats on the topic of cannabis prohibition, it’s pretty clear that America is in the middle of a massive about-face when it comes to public opinion. We’re set to see a number of legalization initiatives in many states come November, and this could ultimately be the defining moment for the pro-legalization movement.
There are many states that are set to vote on decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana, but as we’ve written about before, none are more important than California’s. California already has a thriving cannabis economy that operates almost entirely in a gray area, as medical cannabis is legal and fairly widespread. It’s also, all by itself, one of the world’s largest economies — and if full legalization is allowed to move forward, you can expect to see a lot of money and business interests get involved.
We’ve already seen a little bit of that, with Microsoft being the first major business to start working with cannabis companies. But so far, it’s been the exception.
What will be interesting to see is how Republicans vote on each of these state initiatives. Will we see staunch opposition, as we’ve seen previously? Or will the YouGov poll prove true, and Republicans vote in favor of legalization? We’ll find out, but right now, it appears that the ranks of those opposing legalization are being eroded.