Another Reason the GOP Should Rethink Its Stance on Marijuana

March 2nd 2015

If GOP hopefuls want to reach young people in 2016, they should rethink their stance on marijuana. As we've noted before, contenders on both sides tend to be skeptical of or against legalization, but many young Republicans are actually in favor of it. A new survey from the Pew Research Center reveals that 63 percent of conservative Millennials support the legalization of pot. Though left-leaning Millennials showed more enthusiasm at a 77 percent approval rating, the results indicate that Republican candidates may need to reevaluate their positions to attract the young demographic, which is well on its way to eclipsing the Baby Boomers in size.

As more states begin to legalize marijuana, politicians will have a harder time justifying their opposition. We already know it's far less harmful than alcohol and a host of other recreational drugs. Neuroscientists at the University of Buffalo Institute on Addictions are even claiming that it could have a positive impact on mental health by reducing the effects of depression. 

“Chronic stress is one of the major causes of depression,” Dr. Samir Haj-Dahmane, one of the study's senior researchers, said in a press release. “Using compounds derived from cannabis — marijuana — to restore normal endocannabinoid function could potentially help stabilize moods and ease depression.” 

Overall, it's not just the young folks who want weed to be legalized. Pew research from 2014 shows that more than half of the country supports legalization, with just 45 percent of those surveyed stating it should be illegal. In the latest Pew survey about marijuana legalization, 47 percent of conservative Gen Xers and 38 percent of GOP Baby Boomers voiced support for weed legalization.

Some individuals speaking out against marijuana legalization happen to former users as well. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) recently condemned the hypocrisy of politicians who admit to dabbling in marijuana in the past and refuse to support legalization now. Talking about possible 2016 rival Jeb Bush, Paul told The Hill, "[Bush] was even opposed to medical marijuana. This is a guy who now admits he smoked marijuana, but he wants to put people in jail who do. I think that’s the real hypocrisy, is that people on our side, which include a lot of people who made mistakes growing up, admit their mistakes but now still want to put people in jail for that." 

Paul added that Bush could have faced lifelong political consequences for smoking weed had he been penalized during his boarding school days. 

"Had he been caught at Andover, he’d have never been governor, he’d probably never have a chance to run for the presidency." Though Bush graduated from Phillips Academy in 1971, his peers weren't exactly huge fans of his reckless behavior. "I remember him smoking a lot of dope," a classmate told Vanity Fair in 2001.

Though Paul wouldn't confirm whether he'd personally ever smoked pot, he doesn't appear to think it's a life-ruiner. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R), however, seems to regret his adolescent experiences with the drug, however mild they may have been at the time. The presidential hopeful's spokesperson told the Daily Mail last month, "When he was a teenager, he foolishly experimented with marijuana. It was a mistake, and he's never tried it since." Even though Cruz does not support the legalization of marijuana, he does support a state's right to choose how to approach the matter. At this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Cruz said of Colorado's decision to legalize marijuana, "Look, I actually think this is a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called 'the laboratories of democracy.' If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s their right."

Cruz and Paul are lenient compared to Republican hopefuls like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, all of whom oppose marijuana legalization. It's not too early to get serious about their presidential campaigns though, and if conservatives want to win this time around, they ought to pay attention to what young voters are saying on the issue.

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