Pubdate: Fri, 15 May 2015
Source: Las Vegas Sun (NV)
Copyright: 2015 Las Vegas Sun, Inc
Author: Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's response in a recent radio interview 
to a question about legal marijuana was in keeping with his 
tough-on-crime persona.

A former prosecutor and potential presidential candidate, Christie 
has long been a staunch opponent of legalized pot use, at one time 
lambasting tax revenue generated from the sale of legal recreational 
marijuana as "blood money."

"I will crack down and not permit it," he told radio host Hugh 
Hewitt, who had asked whether legal marijuana sales in Colorado and 
Washington state should be allowed. "Marijuana is an illegal drug 
under federal law. And the states should not be permitted to sell it 
and profit from it."

Christie's comments put him on the conservative end of the divide 
over marijuana among both declared and likely Republican candidates 
for president, one that goes far beyond whether they've ever inhaled. 
Each of the current and prospective members of the GOP field opposes 
full legalization of marijuana, although they differ somewhat on 
medicinal use. But if the candidates are hewing to the views of 
Republican voters on the question of legalization, they are running 
against the tide of opinion in the country overall, a conundrum the 
party faces on a host of social issues, including same-sex marriage.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 53 percent of 
Americans supported legalizing marijuana use and possession, while 44 
percent are opposed. The political divide was stark. Only 39 percent 
of Republicans favored legalization, compared with 59 percent of 
Democrats and 58 percent of independents.

Still, there was some nuance among Republicans: When asked whether 
the federal government should enforce its anti-pot laws in states 
that allowed marijuana use, 54 percent said it should not, while 43 
percent said the government should enforce federal marijuana laws.

That result points to one of the central dilemmas confronting the 
party's voters and candidates on the issue of marijuana: They favor a 
weaker federal government and giving more power to the states in 
general, but when it comes to pot, a substantial bloc of the party 
wants the federal government to rein in the states.

"This whole idea of legalized marijuana is twofold for Republicans," 
said David Kopel, an associate policy analyst at the Cato Institute 
who has researched drug policy. "Opposition to marijuana use plays 
well with conservatives, which is the core voter base in the primary. 
Yet, that stance is not popular with the larger electorate."

And, he said, the idea of "states' rights and limiting the reach of 
the federal government" is crucial to Republican voters - and thus to 
candidates seeking support.

In the range of Republican views, Christie's opposition to state 
decision-making and medicinal use of marijuana is the most conservative.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted 
Cruz of Texas have said they oppose marijuana-use legalization - 
either medicinal or recreational - but agree it's up to the states to decide.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker shares the same view, though last year he 
signed a bill that allows cannabinoid oil to be used to treat 
children who suffer from seizures.

Cruz has cited as a cautionary example the swing state of Colorado, 
which legalized recreational marijuana sales in 2012.

"If we see in Colorado teen drug use skyrocketing dramatically, I 
suspect the citizens of other states are going to be a lot slower to 
make that change if we see in the laboratory of democracy, gosh, this 
policy is really hurting people," Cruz said in March. Several surveys 
taken since legal marijuana sales took effect in Colorado more than a 
year ago have shown no increase in use by teens.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has tapped himself as "a different 
kind of Republican," is on the permissive end of the spectrum among 
those in the GOP field.

Paul has sought to ease penalties for drug convictions and supports 
medicinal marijuana, though he has not supported legalizing marijuana 
for recreational use. (His father, former Republican Rep. Ron Paul of 
Texas, has been a vocal supporter of legalizing marijuana and has 
worked in Congress to end federal regulations that make it illegal.)

In February, Sen. Paul, who has gone on record saying he has smoked 
marijuana in the past, called Bush a hypocrite for opposing medicinal 
marijuana use despite having smoked pot.

(Cruz also has acknowledged that he smoked pot.)

"If you got MS in Florida, Jeb Bush voted to put you in jail if you 
go to a local drugstore and get medical marijuana," Paul said in an 
interview with Yahoo. "Yet, he was doing it for recreational purposes 
and it's a different standard for him because he was from a very 
wealthy family going to a wealthy school and he got off scot-free."

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, has not commented 
recently on marijuana legalization. In a July radio interview, she 
said more studies were needed to "see what kind of results we get, 
both from medical marijuana and from recreational marijuana, before 
we make any far-reaching conclusions." During her first White House 
run in 2008, Clinton opposed legalization.

Marijuana legality remains a potent issue in key electoral states, 
which guarantees that the candidates will be drawn into the debate.

Colorado is at the center of a lawsuit filed with the Supreme Court 
by Nebraska and Oklahoma - two conservative heartland states - that 
alleges legal marijuana is flowing across state borders and burdening 
their communities. The Supreme Court has not decided whether it will 
hear the case.

Laura Carno, a Republican strategist in Colorado, said the argument 
to keep the federal government from infringing on states' rights 
resonates with Republicans and unaffiliated voters, which are a key 
voting bloc in her presidential swing state.

"There's an independent spirit in the West, and in Colorado this is a 
new experiment," Carno said. "But it doesn't matter if the candidates 
are for or against marijuana.

"The bigger, more important question is, we don't want Washington 
telling us what to do. If that's your platform as a candidate, it's 
not going to play well. So on marijuana, and issues like health care, 
it's a safe bet for these candidates to leave these decisions up to 
the states."

Floyd Ciruli, a Denver-based nonpartisan pollster who has surveyed 
voters on the issue for several years, said the idea of medicinal 
marijuana is not up for debate in Colorado, even among Republicans.

"It's been around since the early 2000s and is here with little or no 
dispute," he said. "Even with legal marijuana, the recreational 
sorts, the idea among Democrats and certainly many Republicans is 
this 'live and let live' attitude."

In Florida, which votes early in the primary season and joins 
Colorado as a swing state in the general election, state Sen. Jeff 
Brandes, a Republican, was a sponsor of recently defeated legislation 
that would have allowed marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes.

A 2014 Florida ballot measure that would have allowed medicinal use 
prompted a multimillion-dollar blizzard of TV ads. Voters favored it 
by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin, but state law required 60 
percent for passage. Bush and Rubio opposed the measure.

"Science shows people can benefit, especially someone dying of a 
terminal illness like Lou Gehrig's disease," Brandes said, noting 
that Bush and Rubio were wise to propose leaving the issue to the 
states. "It's an alternative form of medicine and should be an option."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom