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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Will Medical Pot Initiative Help FL Dems?

In her Salon.com post “The left’s secret midterm weapon: How marijuana ballot initiatives can change turnout,” Heather Digby Parton concludes that DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s opposition to a medical pot is ‘political malpractice.’ Parton cites some compelling data to make the point:

Studies have shown that a controversial ballot initiative can boost turnout by as much as 4 percent in off year elections. For years the Republicans used “gay marriage” as the boogeyman to rouse their social conservative voters but that seems to have backfired on them in recent years as marriage equality is now being routinely acknowledged by legislatures and the courts.
Today it’s the Democrats who are taking advantage of the ballot initiative process to push for a loosening of marijuana laws in states across the country and having some big successes. In fact, there’s good evidence that while the youth vote overall stayed nearly exactly the same percentage of the electorate in 2012 as 2008, in the states where marijuana legalization was on the ballot, the 18-29 year old vote went way up:

In 2008 young people made up just 14 percent of the vote in Colorado but this year it was 20 percent. Even more incredibly, in Washington State the youth vote went from just 10 percent of the electorate last election to 22 percent this time.

In Oregon there was also a 5 percent point increase. Polling last spring showed a very big advantage for Democrats if marijuana is on the ballot this fall:

George Washington University Battleground poll, a national survey of likely voters, reveals that nearly four in 10 respondents say they would be “much more likely” to vote if marijuana legalization issues were on the ballot. An additional 30% say such ballot initiatives would make them “somewhat” more likely to vote.

Parton adds that opponents of medical marijuana have found no convincing evidence that there is much “downside to the drug itself,” other than legal problems. She puzzles over Wasserman-Schultz’s opposition to the modest medical reefer reform measure on the ballot in Florida. I guess some, not many, Democrats are conservative on the issue, maybe fewer than those who are conservative about reproductive rights and same-sex marriage.
Further, adds Parton, a May Quinnipiac Poll found that “Florida voters support 88 – 10 percent allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes, if a doctor prescribes it. Support is over 80 percent among all listed groups, including 84 – 13 percent among voters over 65 years old.”
Wasserman-Schultz is usually one of the more astute message-crafters in the Democratic party. But I think Parton is right that it is probably unwise for the DNC head to go too high-profile against medical marijuana. Or, if she must, then always make it clear that she is not speaking for the DNC or her party and emphasize that it is just her personal point of view.
In any case, other Florida Democrats should feel unencumbered in taking a position strongly supporting medical marijuana in their state. That train has pretty much left the station, as far as young voters are concerned, and Dems have nothing to gain by blocking the tracks.

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