Democratic and Republican insiders are saying that marijuana law reform may decide the Florida governor's race, according to a recent Bloomberg report. As activists in Florida work on a ballot initiative that would make it the first state in the South to legalize medical marijuana, Democratic candidate Charlie Crist could benefit from supporting medical marijuana in his closely-anticipated match-up with incumbent GOP Governor Rick Scott.
Although Crist approved increased penalties for marijuana possession as governor, he -- unlike Gov. Scott -- supports the proposed medical marijuana ballot measure. Crist held the governor's office from 2007-2011 as a Republican, before switching parties. No Democrat has won a governor's race in Florida since 1994.
A medical marijuana victory at the ballot box in Florida would certainly be a breakthrough in the South, a breakthrough in one of the most populous states in the country, and a breakthrough in a bellwether state in American politics. But if the measure plays a deciding role in the outcome of the governor's race, it could also finally put to bed the misperception that drug policy reform is a third rail in American politics.
Although marijuana reform is often compared with marriage equality as another emerging political issue on the cusp of mainstream acceptance, support for marijuana reform (especially medical marijuana) is actually much stronger. While support for full marijuana legalization has skyrocketed to 58 percent in recent years, support for medical marijuana has consistently remained way up in the 75-80 percent range since the 1990s.
And it's worth noting that drug policy reform is not a partisan issue -- Republican and Independent voters tend to support it too, especially medical marijuana. As many as 70 percent of registered Florida Republicans said they favored medical marijuana, according to the most recent Quinnipiac University poll conducted in late November. Support was even higher among Democrats (87 percent) and Independents (88 percent).
If 2012 was any indication, younger voters could play a key role in deciding future elections in states with marijuana ballot initiatives. Marijuana reform enjoys far greater support among young voters than any other age group. And exit polls suggest voters ages 18 to 29 accounted for a larger share of voters than four years ago in Colorado, Oregon and Washington -- all of which voted on marijuana initiatives.
Elected officials from both sides of the aisle are noticing that support for drug policy reform is no detriment on the campaign trail, and in fact it can be a key asset to electoral success. So don't be surprised to see smart candidates - regardless of party affiliation - increasingly aligning themselves with growing voter majorities that support controlling marijuana in new ways.
Jag Davies is publications manager at the Drug Policy Alliance.
This first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.