Could Medical Marijuana Be Big Issue in 2013 Virginia Elections?


    by Paul Goldman

    Tucked away in the recent poll by Christopher Newport University is this surprise: An overwhelming majority of Virginians are “jake” with allowing the use of weed for “medical” purposes. They were against, although not by huge margins, following states like Colorado in legalizing the so-called “recreational” use of weed. But Virginians were ready to let folks light-up for medical purposes, although this could change once voters had to focus on the precise implementation of the law.

    This poll, the first credible one in my memory to ask the question, raises the self-evident: Is there going to be a candidate for statewide office this year prepared to jump of this political cliff?

    It is a guaranteed front-page, lead story on the news, kind of thing, a definer perhaps of a candidate for Governor or Attorney General.

    The issue is hot nationally and it might sneak into the discussion as the Obama Administration copes with the new laws in Colorado and elsewhere challenging federal policy on drug use under any circumstances. There is a libertarian streak in the debate which has appeal across the aisle these days.

    As a practical political matter, we can assume legalization of weed for medical use has huge support for voters under 40, less so perhaps for those over 65. The key to the 2013 may be turnout, with Republicans banking on their usual advantage in the turnout model skewing their way a few extra points in the VA off-off year statewide races this November. All things being equal, the electorate this November will be a few points older and less diverse than in 2012, replicating the 2008 v 2009 scenario.

    The point being: In theory, Democrats will do better in direct proportion to the relative increase in turnout among younger voters.

    Would a pro-medical marijuana stance, given its apparent broad support, be a prudent risk vs reward for say an AG’s race which will have time getting much attention if it follows the usual parameters of the debate between the contestants?

    It is an intriguing question, especially given the recent political experience with gay rights issues. Not long ago, they were thought to be sure took hot to handle: now, as a political matter, far, far less so. Polling wise, tacking a risk on medical marijuana seems a better play than gambling on gun issues due to the strong single-issue voter profile of the NRA constituency in southern states like Virginia.

    To be sure, we are talking 200-proof politics, merely assessing the raw vote getting politics, not debating the substance.

    As a medical matter, the jury is still out on medical weed: if you read the experts, they have some wide and passionate disagreements on the use of weed for treating medical issues relative to other available stuff.

    Right now, the medical weed issue is not part of the Virginia debate. The “anti” side has a lot of ammo in my view. But if 3 out 4 Virginians say they are “cool” with legalizing the stuff –  and if this is a real, not poll, number – then any strategy guy looking for an issue to shake up a race will have it on his dance card.

    The anti-politicians could come across to younger voters as the old Guard.

    A “pro” candidate has enough medical community support to make a credible case, and it will seem daring, modern, a “new” Virginia look to younger voters. Like it or not, a lot of winning votes involves “optics”: e.g, a candidate saying it was time to stop wasting zillions on putting people in jail, on police time taken away from the real bad buys, on forcing cancer and other patients to suffer horrible pain, when there is proven way in other states to think outside the 19th century box.

    Hard sell in Virginia, big mistake politically? Or a sleeper issue, one that enable an underdog to outflank the opposition? Should we be spending our scarce law enforcement dollars on people who use weed to help them cope with pain, or instead using those funds to crack down on those doing violence to our kids and families and law-abiding citizens?

    The anti-drugs message is well known; it has won a lot of campaigns for a lot of candidates who used it. But does it work against a pro-medical weed candidate, who gambles he or she can have it both ways, indeed the pro-message makes the anti-message better in a counter intuitive way?

    If the CNU poll numbers are accurate, we might see a candidate take the risk this year.


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