A recent survey has confirmed what everyone seems to think is true. Not only are younger voters way more likely than older ones to support a path to legalization for marijuana, but that trend holds true for young Republicans, too.
In the same Pew study that found 77 percent of Democrats ages 18-34 want legal pot, fully 63 percent of Republicans in the same age bracket agreed.
For the GOP, that signals a clear opportunity. But it also signals a risk that’s more complex than it first appears. To be sure, the easiest and simplest way to interpret the data politically is to decide that Republicans should bet on the future by supporting legal marijuana.
Opposition to that radical move, however, is still strong among older and more traditional Republicans, conservative and otherwise. Trying to outflank the Left on legalization won’t send those voters running into the arms of Democrats. But it would divide the party heading into a presidential election year — not the brightest strategy.
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On the other hand, there’s an even more sophisticated way to calculate the political risk facing Republicans for moving too fast on pot. Whatever the impact of legal marijuana on our morals or our health, we just don’t know how future generations are going to come down on the issue once they get to experience a world where pot is fully legal. They might be perfectly thrilled. Or not.
In the face of that type of risk, Republicans are well-advised to proceed with prudence at a measured pace.
There’s a wrinkle, of course. The costs and benefits facing users of illegal pot are not distributed equally. Drug war critics are right that the relatively privileged (including Barack Obama) get a pass for violating drug laws, while the less fortunate often have their lives ruined as a result. That’s why Republicans are well-served by pursuing common-sense criminal justice reforms while cautiously considering affirmative changes to our marijuana laws. This approach requires more nuance than paint-by-numbers politics. But Republicans should trust the rewards of sound policy that it can provide.