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Candidates and Cannabis: Would Embracing Legalization Help Hillary?

September 29, 2016
After the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both desperately seeking ways to connect with voters. One idea that’s been floated: Why not embrace cannabis legalization? The thinking here is simple. Millennials love cannabis. Support their love, gain their vote.

A few weeks ago the Harmonious Code Council, A Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, sent a letter to Trump’s campaign making the argument that a move to support the removal of medical cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act would be “a win-win situation for conservative states-rights supporters, and liberals who want medical marijuana.”

Earlier today, New York magazine offered similar advice to the Clinton campaign. The headline: “Marijuana Can Fix Hillary’s Biggest Problem.”


Is Hillary Clinton Evolving on Cannabis? Maybe. Slowly. A Little.

With the two campaigns neck-and-neck in the running, could the promise of support for cannabis be the solution for either camp?

Endorsing cannabis legalization might not be a slam-dunk for either candidate, but it could sway millennial voters in their favor. Because when it comes to cannabis, no demographic group supports the issue like millennials.

Could the promise of support for cannabis be the solution for either camp?

A Pew poll released in February 2015 found that 77 percent of Democratic millennials support cannabis legalization. Even Republican millennials embrace legalization, with 63 percent of Republicans born between 1981 and 1996 in support.

In fact, one study suggests that 23 percent of young Americans (aged 18-29) would be more likely to participate in an election if cannabis legalization were an issue on the ballot, as it is in nine states this November.

Four years ago, the conventional wisdom was that cannabis ballot measures had to wait for the presidential election cycle, because the presidential vote always brings out younger voters. But more recent surveys are finding the dynamic reversed: Cannabis measures themselves are increasingly the main draw for younger voters.

Support for Marijuana Largely a Generational Story

Is there a risk? Possibly.

Both Trump and Clinton need to appeal to older, educated women. Some would say Clinton has that vote in the bag, but would a step towards legalization alienate that demographic? And would a step away from cannabis earn Trump more educated, female supporters?

Men are more likely to support cannabis legalization than women, but that divide is quickly narrowing. A Gallup poll from 2010 found that 51 percent of men supported legalization, but only 41 percent of women felt the same. A similar poll from April of this year found that 59 percent of men support making cannabis legal, trailed by 54 percent of women.

In the battleground state of Florida, the gender divide is more pronounced. In Florida, 57 percent of men and 49 percent of women support legalizing cannabis for personal adult use.

There’s a similar male-female discrepancy in Ohio. In Ohio, 59 percent of men and 47 percent of women support legalizing cannabis. In Pennsylvania, though, the gender gap nearly disappears: 52 percent of men and 53 percent of women support legalization.

Winning some of those swing states is a critical part of each candidate’s road to victory. Right now, Ohio is leaning Trump with 42.7 percent, but Florida and Pennsylvania both lean Clinton, with 43.8 percent and 43.6 percent, respectively.


Swing State Voters Support Cannabis Legalization More Than Any 2016 Presidential Candidates

Moving Away From Cannabis

As it stands right now, both candidates seem to be actually moving in the opposite direction of legalization.

Trump continues to trot out New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as one of his main champions. Christie, a famously passionate prohibitionist, worked the room as a spin doctor for Trump immediately following Monday night’s debate. There is widespread speculation that Christie could be a prime candidate for attorney general in a Trump administration, which would put him in charge of the nation’s cannabis enforcement policy.


Chris Christie Wants to Shut Down the Cannabis Industry

As for Clinton, lately her allies have had more to say about cannabis than the candidate herself.

Earlier this week Chelsea Clinton came under fire for her remarks during a town hall meeting at Youngstown State University in Ohio. When asked to clarify her mother’s position on medical cannabis, Chelsea offered this:

“Anecdotally, we have lots of evidence in the area you talked about, in epilepsy, but also in autism, in stimulating appetite for people who are on an intensive chemotherapy regimen, for people who have non-epilepsy seizure disorders and challenges.

“But,” she continued, “We also have anecdotal evidence now from Colorado where some of the people who were taking marijuana for those [medical] purposes, the coroner believed after they died, that there was drug interactions with other things they were taking.”

Nobody inside or outside Colorado has any idea what she’s talking about.

It’s unclear which coroner evidence Chelsea Clinton was referring to, and two days after the Youngstown speech, a spokeswoman for the younger Clinton backtracked on her behalf, saying that Chelsea Clinton misspoke.

Would a Cannabis Embrace Just Backfire?

Both candidates have struggled to gain traction with millennial voters. Many millennials are disenchanted with the current political atmosphere, which partially explained the popularity of Bernie Sanders.

A significant portion of the millennial vote may be lost to third-party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. Both strongly support cannabis legalization. Stein is polling just above 2 percent, while Gary Johnson currently holds around 7 percent of the votes.

In the grand scheme of things, cannabis legalization isn’t the most important issue on any voting bloc’s mind this election. Not even among young, hip millennials. When asked to rank their concerns, millennial voters were much more concerned with issues related to the economy, jobs, and the minimum wage. Millennial voters are also concerned with college affordability, which would explain some of the popularity of Bernie Sanders and his plan to offer free college tuition. Global warming is another issue that ranks highly in millennial concerns, although neither candidate has made much of an attempt to address these concerns.


Majority of American Voters Supports Cannabis Legalization, Survey Says

A play for cannabis legalization could be construed as a last-ditch effort to gain more support among the young, disenfranchised Bernie-or-Bust crowd, the millennial voters who plan to use their vote as a form of protest against mainstream candidates they feel don’t adequately represent their concerns.

Still, in a race as close as this one, those millennial voter numbers could make a difference in the final days of the election. If either candidate chose to take a bold stance on cannabis, it could push one candidate over the edge on Nov. 8.

Lisa Rough's Bio Image

Lisa Rough

Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.

View Lisa Rough's articles

  • LoveUSAHateTheHate

    NW – only one issue i see with that idea –

    Trump panders to every demographic and weaves his Con – it’s going to be Great! Really?

    Trump is racist, bigoted, misogynist, narcissist who incites physical violence against his political rivals, and hatches conspiracy theories like the birther movement on a regular basis who has repeatedly pledged to restrict religious freedom in America.

    He is the Law and Order, Stop and Frisk candidate – Trump supports increased law enforcement powers called Stop and Frisk (already found un-constitutional) as the way to fix unrest associated with the perception of excessive use of force by law enforcement – Lets up the violence some more is the Trump response to anything –

    Trump may very well say he will legalize to get a vote, but really the guy says a lot of things – and just look at the guys mentioned in the article Christy – “the Parties over Colorado”

    In reality Trump if elected will double down on every bad conservative idea from trickle-down economics to the War on Drugs – the DEA will explode with funding –

    He will help build the largest uniformed police force in our history to make sure he can control immigrants, women, people of color, LGBT 49% of white men who did vote for him

    Given the Nixon cannabis and Hippies history – do you think Trump and his advisers will actually give up the opportunity to Stop and Frisk immigrants, women, people of color, LGBT 49% of white men who did vote for him for cannabis in order to remain in power

    Clinton 2016

    Cannabis movement is People driven, state by state, 1 vote at a time

    Anyone selling your the magic wand of legalization just wants your vote –

    Lets keep Cannabis out of national election – unless Willy N is running 😉

    • D wise

      You just described the democrat party

      • massvocals

        Democ(rats ) you mean

  • D wise

    Chelsa clinton says pot kills don’t expect this crooked woman to support this.
    She supports locking people up.
    And is a big supporter of the war on drugs

    • massvocals

      you are correct she wants to study the issue That joke when every non bias study shows it should be legalize , this is just like her plan to rebuild the US for 250. billion Trump wants 2 trillion and at least that would fix us up and cause many more tax paying jobs and if you do not earn 25,000 or 50,000 married you file no taxes FR had to get a lone to fix the depression makes since to ..

  • D wise

    Now they say she mis-spoke that seems to be a pattern with clintons it never is what they say. it is always what they want you to believe in the moment.
    30 years and what do we have to show for it.
    And how many spent years in prison because of the democrat policies super preditors!
    If they really cared about our cause they would have done it a long time ago

  • Sue Reaves-Herrera
  • Chad Mandeville

    Why would you people even consider in voting for this Ultimate Evil. It’s going to be real hard to smile legal cannabis, when we are all dead, from terriest and self destruction. I want it made legal in all states, but come on people be smart about your choices.

    • massvocals

      this is matter chad that no president can fix only act of congress can fix the CSA , this is why each state must legalize it self and punish those who refuse to stay in there jurisdiction ( working with under funding of federal police ) The people are only voice that can free cannabis and there is a billion dollar biz at risk with super conductor made of hemp ( phones that will not go ablaze ) Please work with your state people to bring back liberty as this is a freedom issue , the legal intoxication are far worst then cannabis yet cannabis is illegal it make no common sense to continue to fight cannabis unless your stupid or a prohibitionist this is not a kid problem

      • Chad Mandeville

        I guess I should have mentioned, I live in Colorado

    • lovingc

      Bigoted much?

    • Chad Mandeville

      Ultimate Evil= Hillary Clinton

  • massvocals

    being form Massachusetts , the YES for question 4 must past , for liberty sake we cann always reenter the regulations after we past the creditable question which is should cannabis be legal for 21 age the answer is YES by doing this we will end the taking of cannabis under present de -crim laws and we shall further the rights of medical patients as it will be legal for the same amounts under the medical law
    I have watch law enforcement attack ALL taking there supplies charging some and not others having 3 years to bring case to court they are waiting for this question to become binding PLEASE everyone end this war on cannabis and it will help liberty as well ,

  • Dave C

    Nothing can help Hillary, she is toast.

    Chelsea Clinton: Marijuana Can Kill

    See what Trump just said in his own words, about states with legal cannabis. starts at 4:10

    Donald Trump: Leave Legalization to the States
    In a surprise move, Donald Trump has announced his support of a federalist stance regarding the question of marijuana reform, in which questions of regulated adult use should be “left to the states.” The Republican presidential candidate, fresh off his win of the New Hampshire primary, also expressed his full, unqualified support of medical marijuana reform.

    Trump is 100% behind Medical Cannabis.
    I have debilitating Lyme decease and Cannabis is the only thing that helps without side effects of the so called legal drugs, which Kill people everyday, Cannabis has never Kill anyone and is 114% safer then alcohol.

    I’m voting for Donald J. Trump!
    American First
    Vote Trump🇺🇸

    • Geoff Jacobs