Last week when the nation's capital legalized possession of marijuana, one Republican in Congress warned the mayor of Washington, D.C. that she could be sent to prison for allowing the new law — which passed with the overwhelming support of the city's residents — to go into effect.
But the Republican Party would do well to observe the shifting tides in the debate on legalizing the drug: namely, that 63% of Republican millennials favor marijuana legalization, according to a Pew Center Research survey conducted in February. Legalization draws support across the U.S., not just from liberals, but increasingly from important segments of the GOP base. The breadth of support is a sure sign that a generational shift on both ends of the political spectrum is driving the push toward legalized pot across the country.
The Pew's findings suggest that the nation's divide is more generational than political, which could pose a serious dilemma for Republicans in the run-up to the 2016 elections.
The poll: The survey shows that over 6 in 10 self-identified Republicans under the age of 34 support legalization, compared to 47% of Generation Xers, 38% of Baby Boomers, and a mere 17% of the Silent Generation:
By contrast, a majority of Democrats in every generation, except those born between 1929 and 1945, support legalization.
There's also a growing rift between Republicans and Democrats as generations age. While there is only a 14-point difference between Republicans and Democrats on legalization among millennials and Gen Xers, that disparity grows to nearly 30 points when looking at Boomers and the Silent Generation.
Growing consensus: Historical trends in the popularity of marijuana legalization among generations of all political stripes reveal that it's only a matter of time before the GOP is forced to adopt legalization in their policy platform.
While the oldest Americans are generally cool on legalizing, their support has been at or above the 30% mark for the past few years, and Baby Boomers back legalization more than they have in over four decades:
Generation X has warmed to the idea fairly steadily. Millennial support resembles the take-off trajectory of a rocket ship, climbing from 34% to 69% in eight years.
Should the Republicans embrace pot? Historical trends all but guarantee that Republicans will have to support legalization in the long-term. But the immediate political landscape is trickier territory to navigate.
The pot-loving millennials are on the brink of surpassing Baby Boomers as the largest living generational cohort, and they can't be ignored. But the marijuana-averse older citizens are far more likely to vote than younger ones, and they're an essential demographic for the GOP to capture. A full-fledged backing or denunciation of legalization will likely excite one group and disappoint another. How to choose?
The third way, which Ted Cruz employed at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, may be the safest path: He refused to support it personally, but deemed the issue a states' rights matter. In other words, politicians should appropriate the issue rather than fight a culture war in which we already know the eventual outcome.
h/t NPR News