Pubdate: Tue, 10 Feb 2015
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2015 The Palm Beach Post
Author: Steven Moore
Note: Steven Moore is a former Republican leadership aide in the 
House of Representatives, and currently managing director at the 
digital political consultancy CampaignGrid. He wrote this for the CQ-Roll Call.


Despite the stereotypical image of the stoner who is so lacking in 
motivation he can't get off the couch, a look at recent elections 
shows that marijuana actually does motivate people - to vote. And the 
phenomenon is most profound among millennials, as illustrated in the 
presidential swing state of Florida in November.

Those who want to see a Republican in the White House should take 
note: Millennials could be the deciding vote in 2016, and marijuana 
law reform could be a key issue.

Last fall, a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for 
medical uses fell short of the 60 percent required for passage in 
Florida. Amendment 2 went down with 57 percent, still making it about 
half a million votes more popular than Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Any Republican with presidential ambitions should pay attention to 
the youth and vigor shown by the 2014 Florida exit polls. Despite a 
historically low voter turnout nationwide, 10 percent more Floridians 
voted in 2014 over 2010. That statistic is all the more remarkable 
considering that traditionally unengaged millennials increased their 
percentage of the electorate by 6 points, while ever-reliable 
seniors' share shrank 10 points.

The phenomenon of marijuana law reform initiatives driving increased 
youth participation is not limited to Florida, but few other states 
play the swing role in presidential politics that Florida plays. For 
perspective, Colorado in 2012 saw voters under 29 years of age 
increase their share of the electorate by 11 percentage points over 
2008. The state of Washington saw an increase of 4 percent for that 
same demographic over the same period.

Medical marijuana advocates pledged shortly after Election Day to put 
another initiative on the Florida ballot in 2016, elevating reform 
from a state issue to a national issue - national because most 
strategists see few options for a Republican in the White House if 
Democrats win Florida.

Millennials in Florida voted for Barack Obama at a rate of 61 percent 
in 2008 and 66 percent in 2012, yet John McCain lost Florida by 3 
points and Mitt Romney by just 1. With the margin so slim, and the 
trend over time going the wrong way, Republicans don't necessarily 
need to win millennials, they just need to not lose them so badly. 
The question becomes, "What can Republicans say about marijuana law 
reform that will alienate neither millennials nor the Republican base?"

That needle may not be terribly difficult to thread. Republicans have 
mixed views on marijuana law reform. An October 2014 Gallup poll 
shows that nationally, 1 in 3 conservatives and 4 in 10 Republicans 
favor making marijuana completely legal. The numbers are in line with 
the national surveys CampaignGrid uses to for its marijuana 
voter-modeling project. Exit polling in Florida shows that 37 percent 
of conservatives and 40 percent of Republicans are for Amendment 2.

Over the past decade, national polling indicates a significant shift 
in opinion that favors legalization. In 2006, a Pew Trusts survey 
showed 32 percent of Americans felt marijuana should be legal. By 
2014, that number jumped to 54 percent. The rapid increase is being 
driven by two demographics - the aforementioned millennials, and 
Republicans. Republican support for legalization has nearly doubled since 2006.

So far, the reform debate has been centered in the states, and would 
probably stay there were it not for the disproportionate influence 
Florida has on presidential elections.

That said, at the end of last year, congressional Republicans waded 
into the matter by using the appropriations process to stop 
implementation of a local marijuana reform law passed by voters in 
the District of Columbia, helping elevate the issue into the national 

Going forward, congressional Republicans might want to consider 
carefully how they address marijuana law reform in the 114th 
Congress. Using hearings as a stage for knee-jerk, prohibitionist 
rhetoric may drive away the unique intersection of millennial and 
Republican voters likely to decide next year's razor-thin 
presidential margins in Florida. Alternatively, addressing the issue 
in a thoughtful and strategic manner may serve to bring these voters 
into the GOP tent, and help assure a Republican in the White House.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom