#PAGov: Democrats Don’t Have to Be Scared of the Marijuana Issue Anymore

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John Hanger isn’t a viable candidate for Governor by his own admission, but his views on marijuana decriminalization are right on the money, and I hope we will see some of the more plausible Democratic nominees adopt his position on this.

There’s an old chestnut of campaign wisdom that goes something like “it’s not what you say about your issues, but what your issues say about you” which tends to make candidates squeamish about this issue. But I think the polling has moved sufficiently far in favor of decriminalization of marijuana, and today’s prohibitionist arguments are so weak that Democrats won’t pay any political price for supporting it.

Here’s what I believe is the latest polling from Terry Madonna back in May:

Of these, the legalization of marijuana is arguably the litmus test of whether one is culturally conservative or liberal. Not surprisingly Pennsylvanians still oppose recreation marijuana, 54% oppose while 38% approve. Quite surprising, however, is that support for recreation marijuana has increased almost 75% in the past seven years. In 2006, barely a fifth (22%) approved, but approvals now approach four in ten Pennsylvania voters (38%). Even more dramatic, a stunning 72% of voters opposed recreational marijuana in 2006; today, it is slightly more than half opposing (54%).

At this rate of change a majority of Pennsylvanians might favor recreational marijuana before this decade ends and possibly sooner.

The thing to watch here is the Oppose number. It’s 54%, but is this a voting issue for many of them? Probably not. Marijuana policy reformers have been so successful in recent years because they’ve gotten people to care less about marijuana, not more. They’ve changed it from a highly charged culture war issue that some people on the fringes of politics care so much about, into an issue with all the trappings of a mainstream professional advocacy campaign. The message is that it’s just not really a big deal, and that criminalization may be the worst possible way to control the harms associated with it.

I happen to agree with Mark Kleiman that “tax and regulate” is too simplistic, and that the second-worst policy framework may be full commercialization of marijuana. But there are in-between positions (decriminalizing use and cultivation, but not sales, etc) that I think the other Democrats could comfortably take without signaling to the electorate that they are dirty hippies. The key is letting people grow a few plants themselves, or trade in non-profit co-ops, without allowing the Budweiser of pot to come into being.

This entry was posted in Economy, Governor.

10 Responses to #PAGov: Democrats Don’t Have to Be Scared of the Marijuana Issue Anymore

  1. RSR says:

    In Colorado, they changed the thinking with regards to the harmfulness (or lack thereof) of pot as compared to alcohol. According to their polling, 75% of people who acknowledge that pot is less harmful than alcohol support legalization. Change the first number, and the second follows.


  2. Todd says:

    Hey Geeting,
    Let’s move past this tired argument that candidates that don’t raise enough money should leave the race. We want a candidate that best represents our interests not the candidate that best represents the 1 percents interests and therefore raises the most cash (or has the most cash in the case of Wolf). We expect better from you and we expect better from Keystone Politics as a site that does analysis!

    • Jon Geeting says:

      We’ll move past this argument when somebody offers me a decent argument for why unfunded non-viable candidates who can’t win the election should keep polluting the field. This has yet to happen. Donors aren’t all 1%ers. Lots of small dollar donors contribute too, and we’re not seeing those people donating to John Hanger either. Sometimes longshot candidates actually catch fire and then raise a bunch of money, but there’s no sign that’s happening for John Hanger. He’s just winning a bunch of meaningless Internet polls.

  3. I have been a long time Democratic voter and staunch supporter but will no longer vote for any candidate who refuses to “evolve on this issue” . The science is overwhelming this is a useful medication and less dangerous intoxicant than alcohol. It is barbaric that we lock people in cages for this. It is laughable this is even considered “controversial”. How can we as a society allow this to happen in an age where information is at our finger tips? How can we allow our politicians be willfully ignorant? How can we allow ourselves to be used so easily….. Look squirrel

  4. Money should have NOTHING to do with running for Governor…or being elected. We are supposed to vote for who has OUR BEST INTEREST, not who has raised the most money. My personal opinion as to why John Hanger isn’t getting these donations is simply that Pennsylvanians are so set in the “Reefer Madness” days, and so afraid of change, that they will continue to support Corbett, who in my opinion, and RUINED our economy! Just my $.02.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Folks are mixing up how money “shouldn’t” have anything to do with running for Governor, and “doesn’t” have anything to do with it. I agree politicians shouldn’t have to raise money in an ideal world, because we’d have public financing. But that is not the world we live in. In the real world, people have to raise money to compete. Because they need the money to create field organizations and buy ads and do all the other things that a statewide campaign requires. That’s not some nefarious thing. It takes money to get your voters out.

      • Todd says:

        Jon, If we are to agree that you are a good reporter and do useful work on PA politics, then you are mixing up realism and lamenting the role of money with politics with being the bulwark for supporting monied interests in politics. We all understand that it takes money to compete, but you are pushing for those without enough money (set by your own benchmarks) to drop out of the race quite early and you are leading this call without forging a larger context for what it takes to compete monetarily nor forging a discussion about why some candidates out fundraise other candidates which often has to do with the issues (and interests) they support. We need equal measure idealism and realism here and I think you are swinging too far towards realism… Moreover, candidates have not even given in their 2013 numbers yet….

        • Jon Geeting says:

          To set a benchmark, this is going to be at least a $10 million race, and I’ve heard some say $20 million. $5 million is the low bar, and I’d be very uncomfortable nominating a Democrat who hadn’t raised $5M by the March fundraising deadline.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          I am an idealist about this stuff and often get chided for being too unrealistic. The idea that John Hanger will get more than 10% in the primary is not just idealistic, it’s absurd. Idealism would be saying that Allyson Schwartz’s long record of tough votes (and silly procedural votes that people are going to lie about) won’t really matter and voters will hear her out. I want to believe that, but am skeptical. I would also like to believe that somebody with only $5M can have a shot at Corbett, but that seems like pure fantasy.