If the Florida Legislature fails to pass a medical marijuana bill this session the issue is almost certain to resurface as a proposed constitutional amendment in 2016. A similar amendment narrowly failed in 2014. However, it is widely believed that in a presidential election cycle (when Democrats in Florida turn out by 4-6 percent more than in non-presidential election cycles) a medical marijuana amendment will pass.
The real question may not be whether a medical marijuana amendment will pass (recent polls show medical marijuana is supported by 70 percent of Floridians) but whether such an amendment will impact the 2016 presidential election.
It is true that most amendments don’t impact elections at the top of the ticket. That is because most constitutional amendments are issues that motivate the base of both major parties – but don’t bring out new voters. A medical marijuana amendment is different.
There were roughly 800,000 signed petitions collected to get the medical marijuana amendment on the ballot in 2014. Almost 49 percent of those signatures came from people who had never voted in a non-presidential election. And 78.6 percent of those new voters were either Democrats or Independents. In short, the medical marijuana amendment brought out new voters – and the overwhelming majority of those voters were not Republican.
It is no secret that in 2016 Republicans must travel a narrow path to achieve an Electoral College victory and win back the White House. Most states in the nation are solidly “red” or “blue,” leaving only a handful of swing states to decide who will reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
One recent headline highlighted just how narrow the path to victory is for Republicans, asking, “Can a Republican Win 270 Electoral Votes in 2016…..or Ever?” Whoever the Democrat nominee for president may be, he or she starts with a significant head start. Even if you count Wisconsin as a swing state, it is almost certain that the Democrat candidate for president has a lock on 236 electoral votes.
There is no margin for error for Republicans to win in 2016, which is why winning Florida is not just important, it is essential. Put simply, there will not be a Republican president if the GOP loses in Florida.
Based on history and the fact that an incumbent is not running for president, it is safe to assume the presidential election in Florida will be close (even with a Republican nominee from Florida). A swing in voter turnout of just 1 or 2 percent could be the difference between a Republican victory or seeing Hillary Clinton sworn in as president.
Set aside the fact that medical marijuana has broad public support and can help terminally ill patients, children with seizure disorders and even war veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Considering the political stakes, even the possibilitythat a medical marijuana amendment could impact the 2016 president election should be enough to motivate the Republican-led Legislature to pass a medical marijuana bill, which would eliminate the need for a constitutional amendment. If they do not, the chances of Republicans winning back the White House may go up in smoke.