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Will the Marijuana Vote Help the Democrats in November?

Submitted by smorgan on

That's the question everyone's asking this week thanks to this piece from Joshua Green at The Atlantic. The idea is that putting marijuana reform initiatives on the ballot could bring greater numbers of young, left-leaning voters out to the polls in November. With marijuana initiatives up for a vote in six states this year, we'll have an interesting opportunity to evaluate how other campaigns are impacted by the pot vote.

Whether the theory amounts to much is hard to predict and will be difficult to measure even after the polls close in November. But the fact that we're even talking about this is significant. Our political culture is fascinated with the idea that niche demographics can be mobilized in a cynical effort to shape the balance of power in Washington. Karl Rove's successful use of gay marriage bans to bring out conservative voters in 2004 is still widely regarded as an ingenious ploy that may have clinched the election for Bush.

The mere notion that state-level marijuana reform efforts can impact national politics is a healthy dose of leverage and legitimacy for our movement. When political pundits begin speculating about our ability to bring out voters, that sends a message to politicians in a language they understand. For decades, the Democratic Party has remained shamefully silent on marijuana policy -- despite overwhelming support for reform within its base – all because party leaders persist in clinging foolishly to the 1980's mentality that any departure from the "tough on drugs" doctrine is political suicide. What now?

Will the Democrats continue defending the arrest of their own supporters, even when doing so threatens to compromise their candidates in close races? Will the Republicans make a show of fighting back against legalization, even when doing so threatens to alienate the party's growing libertarian wing? What happens next is anyone's guess, but it's becoming clear that the surging marijuana legalization debate is pinching political nerves and creating opportunities for anyone clever enough to capitalize on it.

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