WASHINGTON -- Fifty percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, according to a recently released Gallup poll. That number, up from just 36 percent in 2006, marks a record high and could have significant implications for candidates on the campaign trail, advocates say.
Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson has already come out in favor of legalizing marijuana, announcing on Wednesday that he would even consider issuing a full presidential pardon for anyone serving a prison sentence for a nonviolent marijuana crime. Such pardons are part of what he envisions as a broader "rational drug policy."
"Pot smokers may be the largest untapped voting bloc in the country," he said in an interview with Outside Magazine. "A hundred million Americans have smoked marijuana. You think they want to be considered criminals?"
Though Johnson has been excluded from recent GOP debates and polls show he garners less than 1 percent of the national vote, recent surveys suggest that, if current trends persist, legalization of marijuana could indeed become a hot-button topic by election 2016.
Support for legalization is as high as 62 percent among Americans under the age of 30, and Gallup has found that Americans are especially likely to favor legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. According to a Gallup survey last year, 70 percent favored making it legal for doctors to prescribe marijuana to reduce pain and suffering.
What's more, Republicans could exploit pot advocates' anger at President Barack Obama, who as a candidate promised to maintain a hands-off approach toward pot clinics adhering to state law. At a 2007 town hall meeting in Manchester, N.H., Obama said raiding patients who use marijuana for medicinal purposes "makes no sense." At another town hall in Nashua, N.H., he said the Justice Department prosecuting medical marijuana users was "not a good use of our resources." Yet the number of Justice Department raids on marijuana dispensaries has continued to rise.
"The fact that presidential candidates are now actively pointing out the need to end marijuana prohibition, combined with the new Gallup poll showing that more Americans support legalization than oppose it, shows that the time for reform has arrived," said Tom Angell, spokesman for the legalization advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, in an email to HuffPost.
With so many Americans in support of legalization, how long can the rest of the Republican presidential field stay silent on the issue? HuffPost has compiled a slideshow highlighting GOP candidates' positions.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has called for an end to the war on drugs, insisting that marijuana laws should be set not by the federal government but by the states. In June, he teamed up with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to introduce legislation removing marijuana from the list of federally regulated substances. Though essentially dead upon arrival, the bill helps to illuminate Paul's views.
Long-shot GOP presidential candidate Gary Johnson has argued repeatedly for legalizing marijuana and says that he would consider issuing a full presidential pardon for anyone serving a prison sentence for a nonviolent marijuana crime. The former New Mexico governor has been open with the media about his own experiences smoking pot. Johnson told The 420 Times that "marijuana really helped [him] deal" with the pain after a paragliding accident in 2005, and in an interview with The New Republic he joked, "I never exhaled." He also maintains that his position is viable politically. "Pot smokers may be the largest untapped voting bloc in the country," he said in an interview with Outside Magazine. "A hundred million Americans have smoked marijuana. You think they want to be considered criminals?"
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has stated his opposition to medical cannabis. Asked about the issue during the 2008 presidential campaign, he replied, "I don't want marijuana to be used in our country. I'm not going to legalize marijuana."
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has made no public statements on marijuana legalization, although she did vote against House Amendment 674, "State and Federal Medical Marijuana Law Enforcement and Implementation," under which the Justice Department would be barred from using certain government funds to prevent states from implementing their own cannabis laws.
In his book, "Fed Up," Texas Gov. Rick Perry wrote that medical marijuana laws should be decided at the state level. In September, Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post interviewed Perry's spokesman on the subject. The spokesman said, "The Governor does not support legalizing any drug. The Governor supports federal drug laws where appropriate. And while the Governor is personally opposed to legalizing the use of medical marijuana, if states want to allow doctor prescribed medical marijuana, it seems to him that under the 10th amendment, they have the right to do so."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been outspoken in his opposition to legalizing marijuana. He sponsored the Drug Importer Death Penalty Act of 1996, under which importing more than two ounces of certain illegal substances into the country can be punishable by life imprisonment or death.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has admitted to using marijuana in college, but now supports harsher penalties for a host of drug-related crimes. Politicians who have stumbled personally, he argues, are still able to make values-based arguments. "I don't think that's hypocritical," Santorum said in an interview with the National Review.
Businessman Herman Cain has not given a public statement on medical marijuana, dodging questions on the issue during the 2011 Ames Straw Poll. Watch it here.
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