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Poll: Republicans Like Marijuana Legalization, Too (Even If It’s Kamala Harris’s Idea)

Long considered an issue that motivates mostly Democrats and libertarian-minded independent voters, marijuana legalization is also a winning issue among Republicans—a majority of whom approve of a proposal to legalize cannabis nationwide sponsored by Sen. Kamala Harris, a new poll shows.

Despite early hints of a new war on drugs from Jeff Sessions, his first attorney general, President Donald Trump has been mostly a nonfactor on drug-policy reform.

On the same night Trump was elected, four states—California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine—legalized recreational cannabis. And so far, the federal Justice Department has not interfered.

One reason behind the reluctance to back up the tough talk might be the fact that a federal crackdown on cannabis would be unpopular with Trump’s base. Voters in six states, five of them red, will see recreational or medical-marijuana legalization measures on their November ballots this year. And most of them like weed.

Fifty-eight percent of all likely voters—and 54 percent of voters who identified as Republicans—say the federal government should legalize the use and sale of cannabis for adults, according to a poll conducted by progressive data firm Data For Progress.

Those numbers increased after voters learned details of proposed legislation, currently locked in committee in the U.S. Senate, introduced by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California), the Democratic nominee for vice president, according to the poll.

If it ever receives a Senate committee hearing, advances to the full Senate, and is approved—which may be too much to hope for in Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate—the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or MORE Act, would remove cannabis the Controlled Substances Act and allow certain marijuana-related offenses to be removed from individuals’ criminal records. It would also establish a national tax on legally sold cannabis products, and create an “opportunity fund” available to communities hurt by the War on Drugs from the proceeds.

When presented with that proposal, support for marijuana reform rises to 60 percent among Republicans, and 62 percent of all voters, according to results of the poll released Wednesday.

That means most Republicans have come around to the idea of regulated and taxed marijuana sales, observed Miriam Aroni Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor and the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, an organization promoting social-justice minded values among district attorneys, attorneys general, and other prosecutors.

“That’s significant,” she said. “At this moment, we’re seeing public opinion agree with criminal-justice reform leaders. That’s very affirming.”

The MORE Act is but one version of federal marijuana reform currently bouncing around the halls of Congress. Despite success in the House of Representatives, marijuana reform has mostly run into brick walls in the Republican-controlled Senate. Despite strong support from members of the Democratic caucus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Congress has yet to hear the MORE Act, according to the bill tracker.

On Wednesday, more than 50 current and former attorneys general, prosecutors, and police officers sent a letter to Pelosi and Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, urging them to shepherd the MORE Act through the committee process and onto the House floor as soon as next month.

That would be a great way to please leftist Democratic voters demanding police reform, and free up resources for small-government minded conservatives all in one move, Krinsky said.

“In the wake of the pandemic, in the wake of the George Floyd racial equity moment, the public is coming around” on criminal-justice reform, she said. “If there ever were a moment to rethink drug policy and the criminalization of marijuana, that moment is now.”

And it might force the president’s hand.

Just this week, Donald Trump himself signaled his own marijuana-related anxieties. During a campaign appearance in Wisconsin on Monday, the president blamed cannabis-related ballot measures for former Gov. Scott Walker’s defeat.

“The next time you run please don’t put marijuana on the ballot the same time you’re running,” Trump told Walker. “You brought out like a million people that nobody ever knew were coming out.”

(Walker did not put cannabis on the ballot in Wisconsin, where 18 counties and cities approved “various nonbinding referendum” related to cannabis reform, as The Washington Times reported.)

This fall, voters in Arizona will consider adult-use recreational legalization after voting “no” on a similar proposal in 2016. Voters in New Jersey and South Dakota will also vote on legalization measures. And there are medical-marijuana measures on ballots in Montana, Mississippi, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

None of these are swing states, and so it’s unlikely that cannabis will swing the presidential election—but it could drive turnout broadly, especially if one candidate or the other makes a case for legalization. So far, neither Trump nor Democratic nominee Joe Biden have done so.

If this polling is any indication, they probably should.