In a report published by The Daily Beast, GOP strategists have concluded that the president believes that those states voting on marijuana legalization or decriminalization could mean a “supercharge” in Democratic-leaning voter turnout.
“The president is keenly aware of how presidential elections [nowadays] … can be won at the margins,” one of the Republican strategists told The Daily Beast. “The pot issue is one of many that he thinks could be a danger… He once told me it would be very ‘smart’ for the Democrat[ic] Party to get as many of these on the ballot as they could.”
During an event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, last week, Trump served some political advice to ally and former Republican Governor Scott Walker, who was in attendance.
“The next time you run, please don’t put marijuana on the ballot at the same time you’re running,” Trump said to Walker. “You brought out like a million people that nobody ever knew were coming out.”
Walker lost to a Democrat in 2018. The same year, more than 1 million Wisconsin voters approved legal pot referendums.
As The Daily Beast notes, the Republican stance on marijuana in some key states is “evenly divided.” Among those states that will likely include recreational cannabis legalization legislation are Arizona and Montana, both of which are seeing heated senate races that could sink Republican re-election efforts. Trump, who won Arizona in 2016 with less than 100,000 votes, is nine points behind Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden there, according to recent polling.
However, in Michigan, where Trump took the state by an average of just two votes per precinct, the recreational legalization of marijuana initiative failed to make it on the ballot in 2016. In 2018, the issue made it to the ballot, and Michigan voted in favor of recreational marijuana and retail sales.
As of this month, polls show Trump trailing Biden as much as 12 points in Michigan.
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s stance on marijuana legalization and the legalization and decriminalization of other scheduled substances is pretty messy.
According to The Miami Herald, Trump spoke at a Florida luncheon in 1990, during which he called America’s war on drugs a “joke” and placed the blame on politicians who didn’t have the “guts” to confront what he deemed necessary legalization.
“We’re losing badly the war on drugs,” Trump said. “You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”
He back-peddled a bit in 2015 when he said he believed states should have the right to determine marijuana legalization. At a separate event in 2015, Trump bemoaned Colorado’s recreational legalization.
“Medical marijuana is another thing,” he said. “But I think it’s bad, and I feel strongly about it.”
Fast forward to 2016, and Trump filled his cabinet with outspoken anti-marijuana representatives, including the president’s first Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who once said he believed the Ku Klux Klan was OK until he found out they smoked weed, and made the claim that “good people don’t smoke marijuana” during a congressional hearing.
By 2018, Trump was advocating for the execution of drug dealers while addressing a crowd in Pittsburg. The comment reportedly prompted cheers.
Now, while the president is warning his Republican allies to steer clear of marijuana legislation in 2020, his campaign team is attempting to wage a war on Biden as an “architect” 0f drug-related mass incarceration, which largely targeted Black American’s as part of the country’s war on drugs.
“Joe Biden is a typical Washington career politician who spent decades building up America’s mass incarceration system and poisoning the public discourse with race-baiting, divisive, and inflammatory remarks,” a blog post made by the Trump reelection team reads. “Biden’s self-imagined reinvention as a racial healer is laughable and requires memory-holing decades of racially inflammatory rhetoric.”
But those close to Trump and fellow Republican leaders see a bigger opportunity to make moves and “outflank” Democrats and progressives when it comes to marijuana legalization and decriminalization. One such Republican is Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, who told The Daily Beast that the conversation surrounding marijuana has changed drastically since Trump was elected.
“[The president] was discussing how marijuana impacted the 2018 election cycle turnout. That was a different time… and before the DNC took a step back on marijuana policy this year,” he said.
“Marijuana politics have more multitudes in 2020 than 2018,” Gaetz continued. “[T]he political opportunity is there for either party in 2020 on marijuana policy. And there are many marijuana voters… Hell [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and I have even sponsored legislation together to democratize access to marijuana research. We get it. The establishment in both parties doesn’t.”
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