Recent polling by the Pew Research Center concludes that 67% of Americans support cannabis legalization. That is over two thirds of the general public in favor of doing so. However, with so much support why hasn’t federal legalization taken place? According to the same survey, Democrats support legalization by a 78% majority. On the other hand, Republicans find themselves in a tightly contested battle with 55% in favor of legalization and 44% opposed.
As the country trends further towards legalization, why is the GOP trying to prevent it? Maybe the question should be who is trying to prevent legalization. Research clearly shows that, albeit contested, the majority of Republicans do support legalization. However, which members of the GOP support and do not support matter immensely.
Take Senator Cory Gardner (CO) for example; he served as a Republican senator from 2015-2021 in a legal state and, along with others like Rand Paul (KY), is a supporter of legalization. In addition, the Congressional Cannabis Caucus is co-chaired by two members of both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Seeing support from Republicans in congress is huge for the legalization of cannabis. But, people like Gardner can only do so much. It seems that the GOP’s elite make the decisions that tend to steer the party’s overall direction and support. People like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Mike Crapo (ID) have been listed as so-called “gatekeepers” of federal legalization.
Much of the GOP’s recent stances have come directly from people like Mitch McConnell. As both Majority and Minority Leader, McConnell has been the spokesperson for the Republican party now for 15 years. Therefore, his influence has made a formative impact on popular opinions of the GOP. Even though he opposes legalization, he does support further research on cannabis and has even helped to legalize farming of hemp in Kentucky.
Knowing which key GOP members are trying to prevent legalization is integral, but so is knowing why. Taking another look at the Pew Research Center’s 2019 survey, the silent generation is the only generation with a majority opposing legalization. Furthermore, less than one fourth of Republican silent generation members are in favor of legalization. Defined as the generation before the baby boom, the silent generation is the oldest group of Americans alive today.
People like Mitch McConnell are a part of this generation and, one could assume, that they still adhere to the principles of the time period in which they were born. Therefore, the reason as to why the GOP is trying to prevent federal cannabis legalization may just be a matter of old age atop party leadership. Just in 2020, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla) told fellow party members and leadership that legalization is an increasingly popular trend and that by continuing to oppose legalizing cannabis Republicans would be promoting incredibly unpopular opinions to a public that overwhelmingly supports legalization.
The current decade of the 2020’s will truly set the scene for what is to come regarding the legalization of cannabis. As the country continues its trend towards legalization and opinions opposing become less popular, it seems only a matter of time before federal cannabis legalization will take place. That question can only be phrased as when? For now it is a guessing game, but one thing is clear: Both parties support legalization and it will be up to newly elected party officials, specifically in the GOP, if legalization actually occurs.