Stronger support for marijuana legalization could help solve Clinton’s problems

It’s relatively well known that cool, hip President Obama, rebellious, anti-establishment Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and failed GOP presidential candidate Jeb! Bush all, at some point, experimented with weed. While Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton claims to not be among their ranks, marijuana, or, technically speaking, stronger support for marijuana could really help Clinton. In the wake of former first daughter Chelsea Clinton’s big gaffe claiming marijuana was costing lives (oops! It’s really not), the Democratic nominee’s political stance on marijuana legalization, which has, in recent years, experienced rapid growth in public support, is receiving more attention.

Support for marijuana legalization, shared by 70 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of millennials, could be a game-changer as Clinton struggles to court younger voters and gain the trust of former Sanders’ supporters. Additionally, in the battleground state of Colorado, recent polling found Clinton and Trump deadlocked. The state is widely regarded as the marijuana-Mecca of the nation since legalizing the drug for adults in 2012, and Clinton supporting an issue that is clearly important to the state’s constituency, and an issue Trump has been relatively silent about, could give her a much-needed boost.

This summer, the Democratic Party platform suggested a path toward federal marijuana legalization, which is sharply more progressive than Clinton’s stance, which she announced in August. Clinton’s administration would remove marijuana from Schedule I, which is the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) designation for the most harmful and least medically beneficial, illegal narcotics.

Clinton has not necessarily come out opposing marijuana legalization, but at numerous Democratic primary debates expressed concern with legalizing the drug before completing full, expansive research of it. That’s not to say Clinton doubts the drug has benefits for medical purposes. “I think we need to be very clear about the benefits of marijuana use for medicinal purposes. I don’t think we’ve done enough research yet,” she said in June.

Clinton’s plan is a step in the right direction and would certainly improve the current state of things. But as New York magazine’s Eric Levitz points out, “Saying ‘I believe the government should stop pretending that medicinal marijuana does not exist and that bong rips are more dangerous than Oxycontin’ is … less inspiring than ‘we need to stop putting people in cages for indulging in a substance less harmful than alcohol.'”

And at any rate, solid research of marijuana has already been done, though Clinton certainly raises the valid point that there are some negative effects for particular demographics. After all, while it’s a scientifically disproven myth that marijuana wholly wrecks one’s brain, the drug can have slightly detrimental effects on the still-developing brains of minors. But that being said, it understandably boggles many Americans’ minds that a substance which has yet to solely claim a life remains stigmatized and illegal, where alcohol, which causes accidents, overdoses, and even liver cancer, and tobacco, which is highly addictive where marijuana is not, and pretty much destroys your lungs, remain entirely uncontroversial.

Hillary Clinton US Vice President Joe Biden Campaigns With Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Scranton, PA
CREDIT: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Merely from an economic and even a social impact standpoint, in the state of Colorado, a 10 percent sales tax and additional 15 percent excise tax on recreational pot in Colorado raised $44 million in 2014 and $66 million by 2015, and much of this was dedicated to education and public health initiatives. Funding from taxation on legal marijuana could give Clinton’s many, ambitious domestic plans a substantial boost. And let’s not leave out the retail marijuana industry, with its sales projected to reach $4.5 billion this year while employing roughly 100,000 Americans, according to some estimates.

But ultimately, it’s not even just the boost among young people and Colorado residents that would dramatically help Clinton. The former secretary of state is frequently associated with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and his defining role in expanding Nixon’s War on Drugs, which, in the words of Nixon’s own adviser, disproportionately and purposefully targeted “black people” and “the antiwar left” starting in the 1970s. The drug war has since wrecked African-American communities, and for his own part, through his welfare reform plans, Bill Clinton transferred money going toward public assistance to building prisons and mass incarceration, while additionally establishing “one-strike-you’re-out” policies for drug offenders.

As first lady, Hillary supported her husband’s welfare and “tough-on-crime” policies, and today, support for marijuana legalization on her end could serve to not only make amends for her prior stances, but also crucially distance herself from the faults of an administration she’s often far too associated with.

While rebuilding struggling African-American communities and healing racial divides between law enforcement and citizens did come up at the first presidential debate, the issue of marijuana legalization did not. Clinton calling for marijuana legalization could change a lot over the next few weeks leading up to election day, although being the careful and sharply astute politician she is, whether or not she’ll change her stance is to be seen.

She is, after all, trying to appeal to moderate bases and older voters as well as millennials, and her reservations about fully legalizing the drug could be entirely sincere given the culture of drug paranoia she lived through.

At any rate, while support for marijuana legalization could help Clinton appeal to more voters, maybe taking a hit of some, herself, could help Clinton make up her mind (just kidding… sort of).